Matthew 13 - 28.
At the close of the previous chapter our Lord disowned all the natural ties which bound Him to Israel. I speak now simply of His bringing it out as a matter of teaching; for we know that, historically, the moment for finally breaking with them was the cross. But ministerially, if we may so say, the break occurred and was indicated now. He took advantage of an allusion to his mother and brethren to say who His real kindred were — no longer those who were connected with Him after the flesh: the only family He could own now were such as did the will of His Father in heaven. He recognizes nothing but the tie formed by the word of God received into the heart and obeyed accordingly. The Holy Ghost pursues this subject by recording, in a connected form, a number of parables which were intended to show the source, the character, the conduct and the issues of this new family, or at least of those who professed to belong to it. This is the subject of Matthew 13. A striking instance it is how manifestly the Holy Ghost has grouped the materials into the particular shape in which we actually have them; for we know that our Lord spoke more parables than are here given. Comparing it with the Gospel of Mark, we find a parable that differs materially from any which appears in Matthew. In Mark it is a person who sows the ground and sleeps and rises night and day, waiting for the germination and the full growth and the ripening of the corn, and then himself gathers it in. This diverges very considerably from all the parables of the earlier Gospel; yet we know from Mark that the parable in question was uttered on the same day. "With many such parables spake He the Word unto them, as they were able to hear it; but without a parable spake He not unto them. … And the same day, when the even was come, He saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side."
Just as the Holy Ghost selects certain parables in Mark which are inserted, while others are left out (and the same in Luke), so also was it the case in Matthew. The Holy Ghost is conveying fully God's mind about the new testimony, commonly called Christianity, and even Christendom. Accordingly, the very beginning of this chapter prepares us for the new scene. "The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the seaside" (ver. 1). Up to this time the house of God was connected with Israel. There God dwelt, as far as this could be said of the earth; He counted it as His habitation. But Jesus went out of the house, and sat by the seaside. We all know that the sea, in the symbolic language of the Old and New Testaments, is used to represent masses of men, roving hither and thither outside, and not under the settled government of God. "And great multitudes were gathered unto Him, so that He went into a ship and sat." From thence He teaches them. "And the whole multitude stood on the shore." The very action of our Lord indicated that there was to be a very widespread testimony. The parables themselves are not confined to the sphere of our Lord's previous dealings, but take in a much more extensive range than anything which He had spoken in past times. "He spake many things unto them in parables" (ver. 3). It is not intimated that we have all the parables our Lord spoke; but the Holy Ghost here gives us seven connected parables, all brought together and compacted into a consistent system, as I shall endeavour to show. The Holy Ghost is clearly exercising a certain authority as to the parables selected here, for we all know that seven is the scriptural number for that which is complete: whether it speak of good or evil, spiritually, seven is regularly the number used. When the symbol of twelve is used it expresses completeness, not spiritual, but as to what has to do with man. Where human administration is brought into prominence for carrying out the purposes of God, there the number twelve appears. Hence we have the twelve apostles, who had a peculiar relation to the twelve tribes of Israel; but when the Church is to be presented, we hear again the number seven — "the seven churches." However that may be, we have seven parables here, for the purpose of giving a complete account of the new order of things about to begin — Christendom and Christianity, the true as well as the spurious.
The first question, then, that occurs is, How comes it that we have this series of parables here and nowhere else? Certain of them are in Mark, and certain in Luke; but nowhere, except in Matthew, have we seven, the complete list. The answer is this: Nothing can be more beautiful, or more proper, than that they should be given in a Gospel presenting Jesus as the Messiah to Israel; then, on His rejection, showing what God would next bring out. To the disciples, when their hopes were melting away, what could be of deeper interest than to know the nature and end of this testimony? If the Lord should send out His word among the Gentiles, what would be the result? Accordingly, Matthew's Gospel is the only one that gives us a complete sketch of the kingdom of heaven; as it also gives us the intimation that the Lord was going to found the Church. It is only in Matthew that we have both brought out. This, however, I reserve for another day; but I must observe that the kingdom of heaven is not the same thing as the Church, but rather the scene where the authority of Christ is owned, at least outwardly. It may be real or not, but every professing Christian is in the kingdom of heaven. Every person who, even in an external rite, confesses Christ, is not a mere Jew or Gentile, but in the kingdom. It is a very different thing from a man's being born again and being baptized by the Holy Ghost into the body of Christ. Whoso bears the name of Christ belongs to the kingdom of heaven. It may be that he is only a tare there, but still there he is. This is a very solemn thing. Wherever Christ is outwardly confessed, there is a responsibility beyond that which attaches to the rest of the world.
The first parable clearly was true when our Lord was on earth. It is very general, and would apply to the Lord in person or in spirit. Hence it may be said to be always going on; for we find in the second parable the Lord presented again, still sowing good seed: only here it is the "kingdom of heaven" that is likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. The first is Christ's work in publishing the word among men, while He was here below. The second rather applies to our Lord sowing by means of His servants; that is, the Holy Ghost working through them according to the will of the Lord while He is above, the kingdom of heaven being then set up. This at once furnishes an important key to the whole subject. But inasmuch as the matter of the first parable is very general, there is a great deal in all the moral teaching of it which applies as truly now as when our Lord was upon earth. "A sower went forth to sow" — a weighty truth indeed. It was not thus that the Jews looked for their Messiah. The prophets bore witness of a glorious ruler, who would establish His kingdom in their midst. No doubt there were plain predictions of His suffering as well as of His exaltation. Our parable describes neither suffering nor outward glory; but a work carried on by the Lord, of a distinct character from anything the Jew would naturally draw from the bulk of the prophecies. Nevertheless, our Lord, I conceive, was alluding to Isaiah. It is not exactly the gospel of grace and salvation to the poor, wretched, and guilty, but it is one who, instead of coming to claim the fruits of the vineyard set up in Israel, has to begin an entirely new work. A sower going forth to sow marks evidently the commencement of that which did not exist before. The Lord is beginning a work not previously known in this world. "And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them up." That was clearly the most desperate case of all. It was null and void, not because of any fault of the seed, but from the destructive agency of the fowls which devoured what was sown.
Next we have, "Some [that] fell upon stony (rocky) places, where they had not much earth, and forthwith they sprang up, because they had no deepness of earth." There was a more hopeful appearance in this case. The word was received, but the ground was stony; there was no depth of earth. Appearances were very quick — "forthwith they sprung up." There is little or no sense of sin. All is taken in but too readily. "The plan of salvation" may be thought to be excellent; the enlightenment of the mind may be undeniable; but such an one has never measured his awful condition in God's sight. The good word of God is tasted, but the ground is rocky. Conscience has not been properly exercised. Whereas, in a real work of heart, conscience is the soil in which the word of God takes effect. There never can be a real work of God without a sense of sin. Where warm feelings are excited, but sin slurred over, it is the case spoken of here — the word received at once, but the ground remains really unbroken — rocky. There is no root because there is no depth of earth: consequently, "when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root they withered away."
But, further, "Some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprung up and choked them." This is another case; not exactly that wherein the heart received the word at once. And we should have as little confidence in the heart as in the head. The flesh differs in different individuals. Some may have more mind, and some more feeling. But neither can savingly receive the word of God, unless the Holy Ghost acts on the conscience and produces the sense of being utterly lost. Where this is the case, it is a real work of God, which sorrows and difficulties will only deepen. Those that received the seed among thorns are a class devoured by the anxieties of this age, and led away by the deceitfulness of riches, which choke the word, so that no fruit comes to perfection.
But now comes the good ground. "Other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear" (vers. 8, 9). The sower here is the Lord Himself, yet out of four casts of the seed, three are unsuccessful. It is only the last case where the seed bears ripe fruit; and even there the issue is chequered and hindered — "some a hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold" — natural things still hinder fruitfulness, more or less.
What a tale of man's heart and the world these parables disclose! Even where the heart does not refuse, but outwardly receives the truth, it can abandon it as quickly. The same will that makes a man gladly receive the gospel, makes him drop it in the face of difficulties. But, in some cases, the word does produce blessed effects. It fell upon good ground, and brought forth fruit in different degrees. "Who hath ears to hear, let him hear." A solemn admonition to souls, to look well to it whether or not they produce according to the truth they have received.
The disciples now come and say unto Him, "Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?" and the Lord makes it an occasion to explain these things unto them. "He answered and said unto them, Because it is given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given." The same parable would be just like the cloud of Israel in a former day — full of light to those within, full of obscurity to those without. Thus it is with the sayings of our Lord. So solemn was the crisis with unbelieving Israel now, that it was not His intention to give clearer light. Conscience was gone. They had the Lord in their midst, bringing in full light, and He was refused, especially by the religious leaders. He had now broken with them: here was the clue to His conduct. "To you it is given to know," etc. It was kept from the multitude, and this because they had already rejected the clearest possible proofs that Jesus was the Messiah of God. But, as He says here, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance." Such was the case with the disciples. They had already received His person, and now the Lord would supply with truth to lead them on. "But whosoever hath not" (the Christ-rejecting Israel), "from him shall be taken away even that he hath" — the Lord's bodily presence and the evidence of miracle would soon pass away. "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not; neither do they understand" (ver. 13). That judicial sentence of darkness which Isaiah had pronounced upon them hundreds of years before, was now to be sealed, though the Holy Ghost still gives them a fresh testimony. And this very passage is afterwards quoted to mark that it is a finished thing with Israel. They loved darkness rather than light. What is the good of a light to one that shuts his eyes? Therefore would the light be taken away too. "But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see and have not seen them: and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them" (vers. 16, 17).
Then follows the explanation of the parable. We have the meaning of "the fowls of the air" given us. It is not left to any conjecture of our own. "When anyone heareth the word of the kingdom" (this was being preached then: it is not exactly the word of the gospel," but "of the kingdom") and understandeth it not," etc. In Luke it is not called "the word of the kingdom," nor is it said, "understandeth it not." It is interesting to observe the difference, because it shows the way in which the Holy Ghost has acted in this Gospel. Compare Luke 13. The first of these parables is given us in Luke 8:11. "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God" — not the word of the kingdom, but "of God." There is, of course, a great deal in common between the two; but the Spirit had a wise reason for using the different expressions. It would, rather, be giving an opportunity to an enemy, unless there had been some good grounds for it. I repeat that it is "the word of the kingdom" in Matthew, and "of God" in Luke. In the latter we have "that they should believe," and in the former, "that they should understand." What is taught by the difference? It is manifest that, in Matthew, the Holy Ghost has the Jewish people particularly in view; whereas in Luke, the Lord had particularly the Gentiles before Him. They understood that there was a great kingdom which God was about to establish, and destined to swallow up all their kingdoms. With the Jews, already familiar with the word of God, their great point was understanding what God taught — which self-righteousness never understands. You might be controverted had you said to a Jew, You do not believe what Isaiah says; and a serious question came, Do you understand it? But for the Gentile, who had not the lively oracles, instead of setting up his own wisdom, the question was believing what God said; and this is what we have in Luke. In Matthew, speaking to a people who had the word already, the great thing was to understand it. This they did not. The Lord shows that, if they heard with their ears, they did not understand with their hearts. This difference, when connected with the different ideas and objects of the two Gospels, is alike interesting and instructive.
"When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not" (ver. 19). Another solemn truth we learn from this: the great thing that hinders spiritual understanding is religious prejudice. The Jews were charged with not understanding. They were not idolators or open infidels, but had a system of religion in their minds in which they had been trained from infancy, which darkened their intelligence of what the Lord was bringing out. So it is now. But among the heathen, though the state be morally evil, yet in the barren waste the word of God might be freely sown, and, by grace, be believed. That is not the case where people have been nurtured in ordinances and superstition: there the difficulty is to understand the word. "Then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in the heart." The answer to the fowls, in the first parable, as we saw, is the wicked one taking away the word of the kingdom as soon as it is sown.
"But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it" (ver. 20). There you have the heart, moved in its affections, but without exercise of conscience. Anon with joy the word is received. There is great gladness about it, but there it ends. It is only the Holy Ghost acting upon the conscience that gives what things are in God's sight. "Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended."
Then we have the thorny ground: "He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful." There is a case that might have seemed promising for a time; but anxiety about this world, or the flattering ease of prosperity here below, rendered him unfruitful, and all is over. "But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it" (all through it is spiritual understanding); "which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty."
Now we come to the first of the similitudes of the kingdom of heaven. The parable of the sower was the preparatory work of our Lord upon earth. "Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way" (vers. 24, 25) — exactly what has come to pass in the profession of Christ. There are two things necessary for the inroad of evil among Christians. The first is, the unwatchfulness of the Christians themselves. They get into a careless state, they sleep; and the enemy comes and sows tares. This began at an early epoch in Christendom. We find the germs even in the Acts, and still more in the Epistles. 1 Thessalonians is the first inspired epistle that the apostle Paul wrote; and the second was written shortly after. There he tells them that the mystery of iniquity was already at work; that the apostasy and the man of sin were to follow; and that when the lawlessness should be fully manifest (instead of working secretly), then the Lord would put an end to the lawless one and all concerned. The mystery of iniquity is akin to the sowing of the tares spoken of here. Some time after, "when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit" — when Christianity began to make rapid strides in the earth, "then appeared the tares also." But it is evident that the tares were sown almost immediately after the good seed. No matter what the work of God is, Satan is always close upon its heels. When man was made, he listened to the serpent, and fell. When God gave the law, it was broken even before it was committed into the hands of Israel. Such is always the history of man.
So the mischief is done in the field, and never repaired. The tares are not for the present taken out of the field: there is no judgment of them. Does this mean that we are to have tares in the Church. If the kingdom of heaven meant the Church, there ought to be no discipline at all: uncleanness of flesh or spirit, swearers, drunkards, adulterers, schismatics, heretics, antichrists, would have to be allowed within it. Here is the importance of seeing the distinction between the Church and the kingdom. Of the tares now in the kingdom of heaven the Lord says: "Let both grow together until the harvest" (ver. 30), that is, till He come in judgment. Were the kingdom of heaven the same as the Church, it would, I repeat, amount to no less than this: that no evil, let it be ever so flagrant or plain, is to be put out of the Church till the day of judgment. We see, then, the importance of making these distinctions, which too many despise. They are all-important for truth and holiness; nor is there a single word of God that we can do without.
But this parable has nothing to do with the question of Church communion. It is "the kingdom of heaven" that is spoken of — the scene of the confession of Christ, whether true or false. Thus Greeks, Copts, Nestorians, Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, are in the kingdom of heaven; not believers only, but all who outwardly profess Christ's name. Some may be immoral or heretical, yet are not to be put out of the kingdom of heaven. But would it be right to receive such at the table of the Lord? God forbid! The Church (the assembly of God) and the kingdom of heaven are two different things. A person falling into open sin is not to be allowed in Church communion; but you cannot put him out of the kingdom of heaven. In fact, it could only be done by taking away his life; for the rooting up of the tares involves this. And this is what worldly Christianity did fall into, in no very long space of time after the apostles were departed from the earth. Temporal punishments were brought in for discipline; laws were made for the purpose of handing over the refractory to the subservient civil power. If they did not honour the so-called church, they were not to be suffered to live. Thus, the very evil our Lord had been guarding the disciples against came to pass: and the emperor Constantine used the sword to repress ecclesiastical offenders. He and his successors introduced temporal punishments to deal with the tares, to try and root them up. Take the church of Rome, where you have so thoroughly the confusion of the Church with the kingdom of heaven: they claim, if a man is a heretic, to hand him over to the courts of the world to be burnt; and they never confess or correct the wrong, because they pretend to be infallible. Supposing that their victims even were tares, this is to put them out of the kingdom. If you root up a tare from the field, you kill it. There may be men outside profaning the name of God; but we must leave them for God to deal with.
For Christian responsibility towards those who surround the Lord's table we have full instructions in what is written about the Church. "The field is the world;" but the Church only embraces those who are members of Christ's body. Take 1 Corinthians, where the Holy Ghost gives us the order of God's house and its discipline. Supposing some there are guilty of unrepented sin; such persons are not to be owned, while they are going on in that sin. A real saint might fall into open sin, but the Church, knowing it, is bound to intervene to express God's judgment about the sin. Were they deliberately to allow such an one to come to the Lord's table, they would in effect make the Lord a party to that sin. The question is not whether the person be converted or not. If unconverted, men have no business in the Church; if converted, sin is not to be winked at. The guilty are not put out of the kingdom of heaven; they are to be put out of the Church. So that the teaching of the word of God is most plain as to both these truths. It is wrong to use worldly punishments to deal with a wicked person in spiritual matters. I may seek the good of his soul, and maintain God's honour with regard to sin, but this is no reason for using worldly punishment. The unconverted are to be judged by the Lord at His appearing. This is the teaching of the parable of the tares; and it gives a very solemn view of Christianity. There is a remedy for evil which enters the Church, but not yet for evil in the world.
This is the only Gospel containing the parable of the tares. Luke gives the leaven. Matthew has the tares also. It particularly teaches patience for the present, in contrast with Jewish judicial dealings, as well as with their just expectation of a cleared field under the reign of Messiah. The Jews would say, Why should we allow enemies, ungodly heretics? Even when our Lord was here below, and some Samaritans received Him not, James and John wished to command fire to come down from heaven to consume them. But the Lord had not then come for judgment, but to save. The judgment of the world must wait for His return.
But we have further instruction. "Let both grow together until the harvest; and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into My barn" (ver. 30). Thus the heavenly saints are to be gathered into the Lord's barn, to be taken out of the earth to heaven. But "the time of the harvest" implies a certain period occupied with the various processes of ingathering. It is not said that the wheat is to be bound in bundles in order to be taken to heaven. There is no intimation of any special preparatory work about the saints before they are taken up. But there is such a dealing of God with the tares. The angels are to gather the tares in bundles before the Lord clears them out of the field. I do not pretend to say how that will be, or whether the system of associations in the present day may not pave the way for the final action of the Lord as regards the tares. But the principle of worldly association is growing apace.
The parable of the wheat-field had fully shown, what must have been an unexpected blow to the thoughts of the disciples, that the opening dispensation would, as regards man's maintaining the glory of God, fail as completely as the past one. Israel had dishonoured God; they had wrought, not deliverance, but shame and confusion in the earth; they had failed under law, and would reject grace so thoroughly that the King would be obliged to send His armies to destroy those murderers and burn up their city. But if there was to be a new work in gathering disciples to the name of Jesus by the word preached to them; was that also to be spoiled in the hands of man? The salvation of souls is indeed secure in God's hands; but the trial of what is committed to man's responsibility turns out now, as ever, a complete failure. Man came short of the glory of God in Paradise, and outside he corrupted his way and filled the earth with violence. Afterwards God chose a people to put them to the test, and they broke down. And now came the new trial: What would become of the disciples who professed the name of Christ? The answer has been given: "While men slept, the enemy sowed tares;" and the solemn announcement declares that no zeal on their part could remedy the evil. They might be faithful and earnest themselves; but the evil that has been done by the introduction of the tares — false professors of Christ's name — will never be eradicated. The Lord evidently speaks of the vast field of Christian profession, and of the sad fact that evil was to be introduced from the very beginning; and, once brought in, it would never be turned out till the Lord Himself returns to judgment, and by His angels gathers the tares in bundles to burn them, while the wheat is gathered into the barn.
If the Church is in our thoughts in reading Matthew 13, we shall never understand the chapter. "The field is the world" — the sphere where the name of the Lord is professed, and extending much beyond what could be called the Church. There might be, and are, many persons who would call themselves Christians, and yet show by their ways that there was no real faith in them. These are called "tares." There are many, whom nobody believes to be born of God, who, nevertheless, would be shocked if they were regarded as infidels. They acknowledge Christ as the Saviour of the world, the true Messiah, but it is as entirely inoperative upon their souls, as theirs was who believed in Christ when they saw the miracles which He did (John 2:23). Jesus does not commit Himself to such now any more than He did then.
The next parable intimates that the evil would not be merely the intermingling of a false profession, but something quite different would surely follow. It might be connected with the tares, and grow out of them; but another parable was required to set it forth. Beginning with the smallest nucleus, most humble as regards this world, there was to be that which would assume vast proportions in the earth, which would strike its roots deeply among the institutions of men, and rise up into a system of vast power and earthly influence. This is the mustard-seed springing into a great tree, into whose branches the birds of the air come and lodge. These last the Lord had already explained as the wicked one, or his emissaries. (Comp. vers. 4 and 19.) We must never depart from the meaning of a symbol in a chapter unless there be some fresh and express reason for it, which in this case does not appear. Thus we have the smallest of all the seeds that grow into anything like a tree; and from this very small beginning there comes a stem with branches sufficiently capacious to yield a shelter and a home to the birds of the air. What a change for the Christian profession! The destroyer is now housed in its bosom!
Then follows the third parable, again of a different nature. It is not a seed, good or bad. It is not the small now becoming lofty and large, a protective power in the earth, and for what? But here we find that there would be the spread of doctrine within — "leaven," used here, as well as elsewhere, for doctrine. For instance, we have "the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees," which our Lord called leaven." The thought here is to symbolize that which spreads and permeates what is exposed to it. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened" (ver. 33). The three measures of meal are not legitimately assumed to mean the whole world, as many have done, and still do.* It is not usual to find the truth make such way. We know what the heart is, and we may infer that the doctrine which is so thoroughly spread under the name of Christ must be very far departed from its original purity when it becomes welcome to masses of men. We have, moreover, seen the tares — which do not imply anything good — mingled with the wheat. We have had the mustard-seed grown into a tree, and strangely harbouring the birds of the air, which erst preyed on the seed that Christ sowed. Again, whenever "leaven" occurs symbolically in the word of God, it is never employed save to characterize corruption which tends to work actively and spread; so that it must not be assumed to be the extension of the gospel. The meaning, I doubt not, is a system of doctrine which fills and gives its tone to a certain given mass of men. On the other hand, the gospel is the seed — the incorruptible seed — of life, as being God's testimony to Christ and His work. Leaven has nowhere anything to do with Christ or giving life, but expressly the contrary. Hence there is not the smallest analogy between the action of leaven and the reception of life in Christ through the gospel. I believe that the leaven here sets forth the propagandism of dogmas and decrees, after that Christendom became a great power in the earth (answering to the tree — which was the case, historically, in the time of Constantine the Great). We know that the result of this was an awful departure from the truth. When Christianity grew into respectability in the world, instead of being persecuted and a reproach, crowds of men were brought in. A whole army was baptized at the word of command. Now the sword was used to defend or enforce Christianity.
* If we but turn to Scripture as its own interpreter, the "three measures of meal" in the parable would naturally refer us to the meal offerings prescribed in the law. They were to be food for the priests, eaten in the holy place, without leaven. See Lev. 6:14-17, and 1 Cor. 5:8.
"No meat (meal) offering which ye shall bring unto the Lord shall be made with leaven" (Lev. 2:11) — the woman here in the parable is doing what the law strictly forbids. Leaven being always in Scripture a type of evil, putting it in the meal is introducing evil doctrine in the bread of God — the food of His people. See John 6:32-33.
The woman too in this parable should remind us of Eve leading "in the transgression"; and still more of "that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce My servants," etc. (Rev. 2:20) — again doing what is forbidden. See 1 Tim. 2:12-14. Why should commentators interpret leaven as good spreading out, or the gospel subduing the whole world? It is like the twelve in Luke I8: 31-34 to whom the Lord spoke of His rejection, His sufferings, death, and resurrection; but "they understood none of these things." In their mind the kingdom was about to be restored to Israel; so they could not understand the plainest words about Messiah's rejection. Preconceived ideas prevent the reception of most simply-expressed truth. Ed.
Observe, too, that thus the interpretation flows on harmoniously. We have parables devoted to distinct things, which may have a certain measure of analogy one to another, and yet set forth distinct truths in an order which cannot but commend itself to a spiritual, unprejudiced mind. Much depends on a due understanding of that which is meant by "the kingdom of heaven." Let us not forget that it is simply the authority of the Lord in heaven acknowledged upon the earth. When it becomes a thing the world takes cognizance of as a civilizing power in the earth, it is no longer the mere field sown with good seed which the enemy may spoil with bad, but the towering tree, and the wide and deeply-working leaven. Such is the very unexpected disclosure which our Lord makes. The multitude might admire, but the wise would understand. The disciples needed to be instructed that there was to be a state of things wholly different from what they expected; that although the Messiah was come, He was going away; that, while He would be in the heavens, the kingdom would be introduced in patience, not power — mysteriously, and not yet to sight; and that therein the devil would be allowed to work just as before, only taking his usual advantage to spoil and corrupt, in a special way, the new truth and condition about to be introduced.
So far, then, these parables show the gradual growth of evil. First, there is the mingling of a little evil with a great deal of good, as in the case of the wheat field. Then the rising up of that which is high and influential from the lowly origin of early Christianity. Instead of having tribulation in the world, the christian body becomes a patron or benefactor, exercising authority in it, and the most aspiring of the world seeking to it for what they want. After that a great propagation of doctrine suited to worldly conditions follows, as the folly of Paganism and the narrowness of Judaism became the more apparent to men, and as their interests carried them with the new worldly system.
Mark a change now. The Lord ceases to address Himself to the multitude, who had been in view thus far. As it is said, "All these spake Jesus to the multitude: and without a parable spake He not unto them." But now Jesus sends the multitude away, and goes into the house. I would call your attention to this, because it divides the parables, and inaugurates a distinct set. The parables which follow were not such as the multitude could see or enter into. In the separation of these last three parables from the previous four, we have an analogy to those feasts set forth in Leviticus 23, where after the passover and the unleavened bread, the offering of the first-fruits and the feast of weeks following one another, you have an interruption; after which come the feasts of trumpets, of atonement, and, finally, of tabernacles. The apostle teaches us that Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us; so that we have to celebrate the feast of unleavened bread inseparably connected with it. Then we have the resurrection of Christ — the sheaf of first-fruits, followed by Pentecost, as we read in Acts 2, "When the day of Pentecost was fully come." These feasts are accomplished in us Christians. But the feast of trumpets, the day of atonement, and the feast of tabernacles which follow the first four, it would be absurd to apply to the Church; their application will be to the Jews. Thus, as in the middle of Leviticus 23 the break indicates a new order of subjects, so in this chapter, where it is just as marked. And while the first parables apply to the outward profession of Christ's name, the final ones pertain especially and intimately to what concerns real Christians. The multitude could not enter into them. They were the secrets of the family, and, therefore, the Lord calls the disciples within, and there He unfolds all to them.
But before He enters upon a new subject, He gives further information on the former. The disciples ask Him, "Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field." Ignorant as they might be, still they had confidence in their Lord, and that what He had spoken He was willing to explain. "He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man: the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom: but the tares are the children of the wicked one" (vers. 37, 38). The Son of Man and the wicked one, it has been well remarked, are opposed to each other. As in the Trinity, we know there is a suited part which each blessed Person bears in their work of blessing, so the sad contrast appears in evil outside. As the Father brings out specially His love, and separates from the world through the revelation of it in Christ; as you have the Holy Ghost, in contrariety to the flesh, the great agent of all the Father's grace, counsels, and ways; so Scripture holds forth Satan always acting as the grand personal antagonist of the Son. The Son of God has come "that He might destroy the works of the devil." The devil makes use of the world to entangle people, to excite the flesh, stirring up the natural liking of the heart for present honour and ease. In opposition to all this, the Son of God presents the glory of the Father as the object for which He was working by the Holy Ghost.
Discrimination runs strongly through the Lord's explanation to the disciples in the house. In the first of the parables, the good is thoroughly separate from the evil, but in the last of the three all is merged into an undistinguished lump. At first, all was plain. On the one hand the Son of Man sows the good seed, and the result is the children of the kingdom. On the other hand, there is the enemy, and he is sowing his bad seed — false doctrines, heresies, etc.; and the result of this is the children of the wicked one. The devil has taken the opportunity of Christianity for making men worse than if there never had been any fresh and heavenly revelation. In God's sight, that which falsely bears the name of Christ is a more wicked thing than any other. Never has so much righteous blood been shed as by the hand of so-called religion, and from whom it shall be required. See Matt. 23:34-36. Popery has been the full carrying out of this earthly religion. And every religious system of the world tends to persecute whatever falls not in with it. The bitterness and opposition towards those who are seeking to follow the Lord in our day is the same kind of thing that broke out into the horrors of the dark ages, and lingers still in the "holy office" of the inquisition when and where ever it holds up its head.
To continue: "The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels." "The world" in verse 38 must not be confounded with "the world" in verse 39. They are totally distinct words and things. "The world" in verse 39 means the age. It is a course of time, and not a geographical sphere. In verse 38 the sphere is intended, wherein the gospel goes forth; in verse 39 it is the space of time in which the gospel is either advancing or hindered by the enemy's power. The harvest is the consummation of the age, that is, of the present dispensation — the time while the Lord is absent, and the gospel is being proclaimed over the earth. Grace is actively going forth now. The only means which God employs to act upon souls are of a moral or spiritual sort. The angels introduce providential judgment; while the gospel lays hold of poor sinners to save them. The Lord intimates here that an end will be put to the present sending out of the word of the kingdom, and a day when the effects of Satan's working must be fully developed and judged. "The reapers are the angels." We have nothing to do with the judicial part, only with the spread of the good; the angels, with the judgment of the wicked. "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world." The same word is used for "world" in verse 40 as in verse 39. Unfortunately, our version gives only the same English word in all.
Many scriptures show a future time and state of things for the world totally different from what the gospel contemplates. I will refer to one or two in the prophets. Take Isaiah 11, which speaks first of our Lord under the figure of a branch out of the roots of Jesse. It is plain that this is true of Christ, whether at His first or second advent. He was born an Israelite, and of the family of David. And again, as to the Holy Ghost resting upon Him, we know that this was true of Him when He was a man here below: but in verse 4 we find another thing: "With righteousness shall He judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth." If you argue that this applies now, because in the kingdom of heaven the Lord acts upon the souls of the meek, etc., I ask you to read a few words more: "And He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." Is the Lord doing this now? Clearly not. Instead of slaying the wicked with the breath of His lips, is He not converting the wicked by the word of His grace? — in entire contrast with what is described here. In Rev. 19 we have the same period of judgment, where the Lord is seen with a sword proceeding out of His mouth. It represents righteous judgment executed by the bare word of the Lord. As He spoke the world into being, He will speak the wicked into perdition. Taking this as the indubitable meaning of what is mentioned here in Isaiah, what follows? — a state of things quite unlike what we have now under the gospel: "Righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins, and faithfulness the girdle of His reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. … They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."
All this is not what we have now. Instead of the world being converted by preaching the gospel, Scripture emphatically declares that in the latter days perilous times should come; and that in the last times shall prevail, not the truth of Christ, but the lie of Antichrist (1 John 2); not the triumph of the good, but of the bad, till the Lord puts forth His own hand; and this is what is reserved for His appearing and kingdom. "He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips shall He slay the wicked." The Lord is not smiting the earth now. He has opened heaven: but by and by He will take the earth. In the Revelation you have the vision of the mighty angel, with his right foot upon the sea and the left on the earth. It is the Lord taking the whole universe under His own immediate government. Now the mystery of iniquity is left unjudged. Evil is allowed to go on rampant in the world. But this will not be for ever. The mystery of God is to be finished. Then will begin this amazing change, "the regeneration," as our Lord styles it, when the Spirit of God shall be poured out, and the earth be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. But till these times of refreshing come from the presence of the Lord, Scripture calls the intervening space the evil age. So in Galatians 1:4, not the material world is meant, but the moral course of things, that is, "this present evil age." The new age, on the contrary, will be glorious, holy and blessed.
In the very next verse, of Isaiah 11, we have the restoration of God's ancient people foretold, the gathering in of all Israel as well as of Judah. At the return from the Babylonish captivity such was not the case. A small fraction of Judah and Benjamin came back, and only a few individuals of Israel. The ten tribes are universally called "the lost tribes;" whereas, "It shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim. … And the Lord shall utterly destroy the tongue of the Egyptian sea" — a thing that has never been done, nor anything like it. "And with His mighty wind shall He shake His hand over the river, and shall smite it in the seven streams, and make men go over dryshod. And there shall be a highway for the remnant of His people which shall be left from Assyria, like as it was to Israel in the day that he came up out of the land of Egypt." Both in the Egyptian sea and in the Nile there be will this great work of God, outstripping what He did when He brought the people out the first time by Moses and Aaron.
This will be the age to come, but in the present age the tares and the wheat are to grow together till the harvest, which is the consummation of this age; and when it arrives, the Lord sends forth His angels, "and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity." The severing then takes place: the tares are gathered and cast into a furnace of fire, and "then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Mark the accuracy of the expression, "Then shall they shine forth;" not "Then shall they be caught up." It will be a new age, in which is no mingling of the good and bad: but the gathering out of the wicked for judgment closes this age, in order that the good may be blessed in the next.
So here, we have the upper region, called the kingdom of the Father; and the lower, the kingdom of the Son of Man. "The Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity." These are not even allowed to be on the earth, but are cast into a furnace of fire. "Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Both are "the kingdom of God." What a glorious prospect! Is it not a sweet thought that even this present scene of ruin and confusion is to be delivered? that God is to have the joy of His heart, not only in filling the heavens with His glory, but in the Son of Man honoured in the very place where He was rejected?
But let us now look at the next parable. The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field, the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field" (ver. 44). This is the first of the new parables within the house. The Lord is there showing, not the state of things found under the public profession of the name of Christ, but the hidden things, or those which require discernment. It is a treasure hid in a field, which a man finds and hides, and for joy thereof sells all that he hath and buys the field. I am aware that it is the habit of persons to apply this to a soul finding Christ. But what does the man in the parable do? He sells all that he has to buy the field. Is this the way for a man to be saved? If so, salvation is a question not of faith, but of giving up everything to gain Christ, which is not grace, but works carried to the utmost. When a man has Christ, he would doubtless give up everything for Him. But these are not the terms on which a man first receives Christ for his soul's need. But this is not all: "The field is the world." Am I to buy the world in order to obtain Christ? This only shows the difficulties into which we fall whenever we depart from the simplicity of Scripture. The Lord Himself confutes such an interpretation. He shows that there is one Man, one only, who saw this treasure in the midst of the confusion. It is Himself, who gave up all His rights in order that He might have sinners washed in His blood and redeemed to God; it was He who bought the world, in order to acquire the treasure He valued. The two things are distinctly presented in John 17:2, "As Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as Thou hast given Him." There is the treasure: "As many as Thou hast given Him." He buys the whole, the outside world, in order to possess this hidden treasure.
But, moreover, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchantman seeking goodly pearls; who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it" (vers. 45, 46). The parable of the hid treasure did not sufficiently convey what the saints are to Christ. For the treasure might consist of a hundred thousand pieces of gold and silver. And how would this mark the blessedness and beauty of the Church? The merchantman finds "one pearl of great price." The Lord does not see merely the preciousness of the saints, but the unity and heavenly beauty of the assembly. Every saint is precious to Christ; but "He loved the Church, and gave Himself for it." That is what is seen here — "One pearl of great price." I do not in the least doubt that its spirit may be applied to every Christian; but I believe it is intended to set forth the loveliness of the Church in the eyes of Christ. It could not be fully said of a man awaking to believe the gospel, that he is seeking goodly pearls? And before conversion, the sinner is rather feeding on husks with the swine. Here it is one who seeks "goodly pearls," which no unconverted man ever really sought. There is no possibility of applying these parables except to the Lord Himself. How blessed it is that, in the midst of all the confusion which the devil has wrought, Christ sees in His saints a treasure, and the beauty of His Church, spite of all infirmities and failure!
Then we have all wound up by the parable of the net which is thrown into the sea (vers. 47-50). It is a figure used to remind us that our energies and desires must be directed after those who are floating about in the sea of the world. The net is cast into the sea, and gathers of every kind, "which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away." Who are "they"? Never do we find the angels gathering the good, but always severing the wicked for judgment. The fishers were men, like the servants in the first parable. But it is not only the gospel that we have here. The net gathers in of every kind. It is shown us that out of every class, before the Lord returns in judgment, there was to be a mighty operation of the Spirit through the fishers of men, gathering saints together in a way quite unexampled. May not the spirit of this be going on now? The gospel is going out with remarkable power over all lands. But there is another action — the gathering the good together and putting them into vessels. The bad are cast away; but this is not the end of them. "The angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire." The angels' business is always with the wicked; the servants' with the good. The severing of the wicked from among the just is not the fishermen's work at all; and their casting of the bad away is not the same thing as the furnace of fire.*
* In a pamphlet "The Mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven" by F. W. Grant, the meaning of these three parables is made luminous. The "treasure hid in the field," setting forth Israel, Jehovah's "peculiar treasure" (Ps. 134:4) — sought by the Lord, who acquires title over field and treasure by His humiliation and sufferings unto death; and now keeps the hidden treasure for a future day.
Then "the pearl of great price" — the Church which He loves and for which "He gave Himself," and will adorn Himself with it as His companion and bride, in heavenly glory.
Then "the net" cast into the Gentile sea after the Church is "caught up" to meet her Bridegroom — the Gospel of the Kingdom going out and gathering a multitude, to be sorted by the administrators of the government of God at the close of that brief age. We commend the pamphlet to the reader, also the "Numerical Bible" on the Gospels, by the same author. Ed.
In commenting on chapters 8 and 9 of our Gospel, some striking instances of displacement have been already pointed out. Thus the incidents of crossing the lake in the storm, of the cured demoniacs, of the raised daughter of Jairus, and of the woman healed on the way, belong, as matters of history, to the interval between the parables we have been lately occupied with and the despising of our blessed Lord, which our Evangelist proceeds to set down next in order. I have sought to explain the principle on which, as I believe, the Holy Spirit was pleased to act in thus arranging the events, so as most vividly to develop our Lord's Messianic ministry in Israel, with His rejection and its consequences. Hence it is that the intervening facts having been inserted in that earlier portion, the unbelief of Israel in presence of His teaching naturally follows. He was in His own country and taught them in their synagogues; but the result, spite of astonishment at His wisdom and mighty works, is the scornful inquiry, "Is not this the carpenter's son? … And they were offended in Him." A prophet He is, but without honour in His own country and in His own house. The manifestation of glory is not denied; but Him in whom it was manifested, is not received according to God, but judged according to the sight and apprehensions of nature (vers. 54-58).
Nor is this the whole sad truth. About this time the twelve were sent forth. This we have had in chapter 10, forming part of the special series of events transplanted into that part of the Gospel; but, in point of time, it followed the people's fleshly judgment of Christ. Their mission was beautifully given before by Matthew, so as to complete the picture of Christ's patient persevering grace with Israel, as well as to testify the rights of His person as Jehovah, the Lord of the harvest. Here consequently the fact is omitted, but the effect appears. "At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do show forth themselves in him."
This gives occasion to the Spirit of God to tell the tale (vers. 3-12) of the extinction of John the Baptist's testimony in his own blood. It was not only a blinded people, but in their midst ruled a false and reckless king, who feared not first to imprison, and finally to slay, that blessed witness of God. Not that he did not fear the multitude (ver. 5); for his passions would have impelled to do the deed; nor that he had not sorrow and qualms when it came to the point (ver. g); but what can these restraints avail against the wiles and power of Satan? Bad as Herod was, he was not altogether without a conscience, and the preaching of John had reached it, so far at least as to render him uneasy. But the issue was what one might expect who knows that an enemy is behind the scene, hating all that is of God, and goading man on to be his own slave and God's foe, in the gratification of lust and the maintenance of honour worse than vanity. What an insight into the world and the heart we have here from God! And with what holy simplicity all is laid bare which it would be profitable for us to hear and weigh! "Man being in honour abideth not; he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly; yet their posterity approve their sayings. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning." So sang the Psalmist, and surely it was right and of God. "And he (the king) sent and beheaded John in the prison; and his head was brought in a charger and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother" (vers. 10, 11). Such is man, and such woman, without God.
When word was brought to the Lord about John's death, He marks His sense of the act at once — "He departed thence by ship into a desert place apart: and when the people had heard thereof, they followed Him." There was no insensibility in Him, whatever His longsuffering and grace. He felt the grievous wrong done to God and His testimony and His servant. It was the harbinger of a storm still more violent and a deed of blood darker far — the awful sin of His own rejection. He would not hurry the moment, but retires. He was a sufferer, a perfect sufferer, as well as a sacrifice; and while His sufferings rose to their height in that most solemn hour when He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, it would be to ignore much if we limited our thoughts and feelings of His love and moral glory to His closing agony. The Lord, then, so much the more felt the evil, because of His unselfish love and unstained holiness. It is ever felt most in God's presence, where Jesus felt everything. The work of rejection goes on.
Did this deep sense in His spirit of the growing power of evil in Israel interrupt the course of His love? Far from it. "And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and He healed their sick" (ver. 14). Let murderous unbelief act as it may, He was Jehovah, present here below in humiliation, but in divine power and grace.
The disciples poorly profit by His grace, and leave small space for the display of His beneficent power. So, when it was evening, they "came to Him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now past; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves victuals" (ver. 15). "Send the multitude away!" — Away from Jesus? what a proposal! The greatness of the strait, the urgency of the need, the difficulty of the circumstances, which to unbelief are so many reasons for men to do what they can, are to faith just so much the more the plea and occasion for the Lord to show what He is. "Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat." Oh, the dullness of man! — the folly and slowness of heart in disciples to believe all! And yet, beloved friends, have we not seen it? Have we not proved the selfsame thing in ourselves? What lack of care for others! What measuring of their wants, in the forgetfulness of Him who has all power in heaven and on earth, and who, in the same breath that assures us of it, has sent us forth to meet the deepest necessities of sin-darkened souls!
"And they say unto Him, We have here but five loaves and two fishes." Ah! were they, are we, so blind as to overlook that it is not a question of what, but whom, we have? Jesus is nothing to the flesh even of disciples.
He said, "Bring them hither to Me." Oh for more simplicity in thus bringing every lack and every scanty supply to Him whose it is to provide, not for us only, but for all the exigencies of His love; to reckon on Him more habitually as One who cannot act beneath Himself.
"And He commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, He blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children" (vers. 19-21).
How blessed the scene, and how the perfectness of Christ shines through it all! In nothing does He depart from grace, spite of the recent display of murderous hatred in Herod; His very retiring apart before it is but a further step in the path of His sorrow and humiliation; and yet there, in the desert, to this great multitude, drawn out by their wants, comes forth this striking testimony. Should they not have assuredly gathered who and what He was? Jehovah had chosen Zion — had desired it for His habitation — had said, "This is My rest forever: here will I dwell; for I have desired it." But now an Edomite was there, the slave of a ravening Gentile; and the people would have it so, and the chief priests would shortly cry, "We have no king but Caesar." Nevertheless, the rejected One spreads a table in the wilderness, abundantly blesses Zion's provision, and satisfies her poor with bread. The miracle may not be the fulfilment of Psalm 132:5, but it is the witness that He was there who could, and yet will, fulfil it. He is the Messiah, but the rejected Messiah, as ever in our Gospel. He satisfies His poor with bread, but it is in the wilderness, whither He had withdrawn apart from the unbelieving nation and the wilful apostate king.
But now a change opens on our view. For "straightway Jesus constrained His disciples to get into a ship and to go before Him unto the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, He was there alone" (vers. 22, 23). The crown was not yet to flourish upon Himself. He must leave His ancient people because of their unbelief, and take a new position on high, and call out a remnant to another state of things also. Rejected as Messiah on earth, He would not be a king by the will of man to gratify the worldly lusts of any, but go above, and there exercise His priesthood before God. It is an exact picture of what the Lord has done. Meanwhile, if the masses of Israel ("the great congregation") are dismissed, His elect are ushered into a scene of troubles in the absence of their Master during the night of man's day. "The ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves; for the wind was contrary."
Such were some of the consequences of Christ's rejection. Apart on high, and not in the wilderness, He prays for His own; locally severed, and yet in truth far nearer, He prays for the disciples left alone, to outward appearance. They are "such as should be saved," the chosen ones, companions of His own humiliation while the nation despised Him.
"And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea. And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?" (vers. 25-31.) Without dwelling now on the moral lesson, with which we are all more or less familiar, a few words on the typical instructions conveyed by the passage may be welcome.
He will leave His intercessional place above, and rejoin His disciples when their troubles and perplexity are deepest. The mountain, the sea, storm and calm, darkness and light, are all, as to security, alike to Christ; but His taking part in the distress is the terror of the natural mind. At first even the disciples "were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear," only hushed by the sign of His speedy presence. This hardly goes beyond the circumstances and condition of the Jewish remnant. If there be any part which does, it is set forth in Peter, who, on the word of Jesus, quits the ship (which presents the ordinary state of the remnant), and goes to meet the Saviour outside all support of nature. It is our part to cross the world by divine power; for we walk by faith, and not by sight. The wind was not hushed, the waves as threatening as ever; but had not Peter heard that word "Come"; and was it not enough? It was ample as from the Lord and God of all. "And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus." As long as Jesus and His word were before his heart, there was no failure any more than danger. "But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me." Peter failed, as the Church has failed, to walk toward Christ and with Christ; but, as in his case so in ours, Christ has been faithful, and has delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver; in "whom we trust that He will yet deliver." "And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped Him, saying, Of a truth Thou art the Son of God" (vers. 32, 33).
Jesus now rejoins the remnant, and calm immediately follows, and He is owned there as the Son of God. Nor this only, for "they came into the land of Gennesaret. And when the men of that place had knowledge of Him, they sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto Him all that were diseased, and besought Him that they might only touch the hem of His garment; and as many as touched were made perfectly whole" (vers. 34-36). The Lord is now joyfully received in the very scene where before He had been rejected. It is the blessing and healing of a distressed and groaning world, consequent on His return in acknowledged power and glory.
We find in this chapter striking evidence of the great change which was now fast coming in through the rejection of Jesus by Israel. For, first, we have certain religious guides, "Scribes and Pharisees which were of Jerusalem," who had the best spiritual opportunities of their nation, and who came clothed with all that savoured of antiquity and outward sanctity. These men put the question to our Lord, "Why do Thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread." The Lord proceeds to deal with conscience. He does not enter into an abstract discussion about tradition; nor does He dispute with them as to the authority of the elders; but He at once lays hold of the plain fact that, in their zeal for the tradition of the elders, they were setting themselves point-blank against the clear, positive commandment of God. This I believe to be the invariable effect of tradition, no matter with whom it may be found. If we take up the history of Christendom, and consider any rule that ever was invented, it will be found to carry those who follow it in opposition to the mind of God. It may seem to be the most natural thing possible, and growing out of the new circumstances, of the Church; but we are never safe in departing from God's word for any other standard.
I am not now contending for the bare literal interpretation of Scripture. A certain course that the word of God binds upon His saints in dealing with one evil may not be their duty at some other crisis. New circumstances modify the path the Church ought to pursue. Were you to apply the directions given for judging immorality to fatal error touching our Lord's person, you would have a very insufficient measure of discipline. False doctrine does not touch the natural conscience as gross conduct. Nay, you may too often find a believer drawn away by his affections to make excuses for those who are fundamentally heterodox. All sorts of difficulties fill the mind where the eye is not really single. Many might thus be involved who did not themselves hold the false doctrine. If I hold the principle of dealing with none but him who brings not the doctrine of Christ, it will not do; for there may be others entangled with it. What is any individual, what is the Church even, in comparison with the Saviour, the Son of the Father? Accordingly, the rule laid down by the Spirit for vindicating Christ's person from blasphemous assailants, or their partisans, is far more stringent than where it is a question of moral corruption, be it ever so bad.
Again, there is a strong tendency to stereotype our own previous practice, and when some fresh evil comes in, to insist on what was done before, or generally, without inquiring afresh of God and searching into His word in view of the actual case before us and our own responsibility. The spirit of dependence is needed in order to walk rightly with God. There is in the written word of God that which will meet every claim; but each case should be a renewed occasion for consulting that word in His presence who gave it. People like to be consistent with themselves, and to hold fast former opinions and practices.
Our Lord, in this place, asserts that deference to mere human tradition leads into direct disobedience of God's will. Washing the hands might have seemed to be a most proper act. Nobody could pretend that Scripture forbade it; and, no doubt, the Jewish doctors could press its great significance. They might very well argue how calculated it was to keep before their minds the purity God insists on, and especially that we ought never to receive anything from His hand without putting away all defilement from ours. They might reason thus to a people who loved all outward routine. At all events they might say, What was the harm of such a tradition? But our Lord simply comes to this issue: "Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" By means of their tradition God was disobeyed. The command to honour the father and mother was the first commandment with promise, as the apostle says in writing to the Ephesians. Other commandments had the threat of death annexed to them; this commandment carried the promise of long life upon the earth. The apostle's reasoning is, that, if a Jewish child was not only bound, but encouraged by such a promise, to venerate his parents, how much more is a christian child to obey them — not merely in the law, but in the Lord.
The Lord, then, confronts the Pharisees with, "God commanded, saying, honour thy father and mother; and he that curseth father or mother, let him die the death." Honour to parents was valued by God; and disrespect was deadly in His sight — "But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me, and honour not his father or his mother …" The Jews had brought in a cheat (to quiet their consciences) by which they might free themselves from the obligation to meet filial duties. They had only to pronounce the word, "It is a gift" (Corban), and a parent might be forgotten! Doubtless, it was one of their authorized traditions, and for the priest's profit, but in God's sight a direct breach of His command. "Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition." And this is what tradition usually does, whether in Romanism or elsewhere. To add to Scripture is ruinous: it does not matter by whom it may be done, or for whatever holy motives men may allege; God is jealous about it, and will not have His word enlarged or amended. Revelation is complete, and our simple business is to be obedient to the word of God.
Take, for instance, the choice of a minister. People, Christians, say, We must send for ministers, and choose between them who is to be ours. I am willing to conceive care and conscience in exercising their judgment. But where is the warrant for choosing any one whatever to preach the gospel, or to teach the Church? Is there one precept, or one instance, in all the New Testament? Did God, then, not foresee the difficulties and the wants of congregations? Surely He did. Why, then, is there absence of all such directions for them? Because it was a sin to do it; not only not His mind but contrary to it. There is not a single case, nor anything like it, in Scripture from the time the Holy Ghost was sent down at Pentecost. Yet multitudes of churches are spoken of in Scripture. What, then, is a congregation to do when they want a minister? Why not search and see the Scripture way of meeting the need? The difficulty arises from their being in a false position already. The central truth of the Church is the presence of the Holy Ghost. I am speaking now of the Christian assembly, wherein the Spirit is personally present to act according to His own will in the midst of disciples there gathered for the purpose of glorifying God and exalting Christ. In such a meeting the question of choosing a minister would not arise. So that, if you take this common Protestant tradition of choosing a minister, it is in distinct opposition to the word of God. It might be good for a Christian assembly to feel their weakness. There might be none with any special gift among them: some might be able to help in worship and prayer, though not in preaching or teaching. But the blessed comfort is that, even if there were none specially gifted in the Word, the Holy Ghost is able to edify the saints without such. God in His wisdom may be pleased to raise up none in a particular assembly, or He may send there two, three, or more to minister. I do not believe that any one man has sufficient gifts for the Church. The notion of having a single person to be the exclusive organ of the communications of God to His people is a wrong to them and, above all, to the Lord. At the Reformation the point was to get the Bible that poor souls might learn of Christ for their salvation. But nearly all that was known of the truth ended there. The Reformation never touched the true question of the Church. The reformers had to deal with a very rough enemy. They had to blow up the masses of rock in the quarry; and we must not find fault if they could not fashion the stones nor build them with equal skill. But we ought not to stop at their hewings.
Here, with the Pharisees, it was not mere following tradition, but using it to indulge hypocritical selfishness. "Ye hypocrites," says our Lord, "well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me." Those who pretended such zeal for the law were the while destroying it by their tradition, dishonouring God's own authority in the earthly relationships He had established and honoured. So He adds, "But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men."
Upon this, the Lord calls the multitude, and says to them, "Hear and understand: not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." It is the religious leaders chiefly that occupy themselves with tradition. The great general snare is denying the evil of men. The deception which Satan constantly uses now is the idea that man is not so bad but moral culture may improve him. The progress of the world is astonishing, they say. There are societies for promoting every philanthropic object, and for the improvement of man. The faults are sought for in the circumstances of surroundings instead of in man. Here is a word that pronounces on these efforts of men in the gross: "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." The real secret of man's deplorable condition is his heart. This affects all that comes out.
It is not in any wise what God made. Man is now a corrupt creature, whose corruption is imparted to what he takes in. Therefore mere restraining of the flesh is entirely useless in God's sight and essentially false. The Lord says to the multitude, "Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man, but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man." Observe, He has done with the question of Jerusalem and of tradition. He speaks of what touches human nature. Man is lost. But no one thoroughly believes this about himself, till he has found Christ. He may believe he is a sinner, but does he believe he is so bad that no good toward God can be got out of him? Is not the prevalent theory and effort to better man's condition? But our Lord declares here that the heart is bad; and till the heart is reached, all else is vain. "But the word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart." God's way is to deal with the heart. What so simple, so blessed, so mighty, as the gospel? And the gospel needs no handmaid? The handmaid has lost her mission and is discharged. Hagar was sent out of the house, and the son born after the flesh only mocks the child of promise. Man is not now in a state of probation. The trial has been made. God has pronounced that the flesh is utterly worthless; and yet man is constantly re-trying the question, instead of believing God.
The disciples did not altogether relish what the Lord had been saying. They came and said unto Him, "Knowest Thou that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying?" They might not be offended themselves, but were disposed to sympathize with the people who were. But our Lord answers still more sternly, "Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." There needs a new life from God, not an improving of the old one. A plant of heavenly origin must be planted, then, and the heavenly Father must do it. Every other plant shall be rooted up. "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind." Reasoning with these Pharisees is altogether vain. They require first principles, and the work of God in their souls. All discussion therefore is useless. "Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind." He did not apply this to the multitude, but to the leaders that were stumbled by the doctrine of man's total corruption. Such are best left to their own devices. "Let them alone … And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch."
But the Lord does not leave the disciples where they were. Peter answers and says unto Him, "Declare unto us this parable." What did he mean by calling it a parable? He did not understand it himself. Here was one, the very chief of the twelve apostles, and he cannot understand our Lord when He tells them that man is altogether wrong — his heart most of all; making that which comes out of him evil — not that which goes in. And this is a parable! The difficulty of Scripture arises less from difficult language than from unpalatable truth. Truth is contrary to people's wishes; they cannot see it, because they do not like to receive it. A man may not be always conscious of this himself, but it is the real secret that God sees. The obstacle consists in man's dislike of the truth. Jesus answered, "Are ye also yet without understanding? Do ye not yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies." The source of man's evil is from within. And, therefore, until there is a new life brought in — till man is born again, of water and of the Spirit — all is useless. "These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man."
Here closes our Lord's blessed and weighty instruction, showing that the day of outward forms was past, and that it was now a question of the reality of man's state in the sight of God.
The Lord now turns away from these scribes and Pharisees and goes to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, at the very extremity of the Holy Land, and that particular quarter of the border of it which had been expressly the scene of the judgments of God.
In chapter 11 our Lord had referred to them, and said that it would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment than for the cities where His mighty works had been done. They were proverbial as the monuments of God's vengeance among the Gentiles.* There a woman of Canaan meets Him. If there was one race more particularly under God's ban, it was Canaan. "Cursed be Canaan," said Noah. The youth, Canaan, seems to have been specially the leader of his father in his wickedness against his grandfather Noah. "Cursed be Canaan. A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." And when Israel was brought into the land, the Canaanites, sunken in deep corruption, were to be exterminated without mercy. Their abominations had gone up to heaven with a cry for vengeance from God. Here, this woman came out of the coasts of Canaan, and cries unto Him, saying, "Have mercy upon me, O Lord, Thou Son of David: my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil" (ver. 22). If we could conceive any case most opposed to what we had before — scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem, full of learning and outward veneration for the law — we have it in this poor woman of Canaan.
*The overthrow of Tyre predicted in Isa. 23 and Ezek. 26 was only partially accomplished by Nebuchadnezzar who took Judah away captive to Babylon. This ancient and princely merchant-city upon the sea was afterwards not only captured but utterly destroyed by Alexander according to Ezek. 26:3-4, who sold the remnant of her inhabitants into slavery. — [Ed.
The circumstances too were dreadful. Not only was it in Tyre and Sidon, recalling the judgments of God, but the devil had taken possession of her daughter. All these circumstances together made the case as deplorable as one could find. How was the Lord to deal with her? The Lord shows, in meeting her case, a great change in His ways. The Jews He had pronounced hypocrites; their worship intolerable to God, and declared such through their own prophets: for in pronouncing them hypocrites, He did it out of the lips of their own prophet Isaiah. Now comes one that had not the smallest tie with Israel. How would the Messiah deal with her? She cries unto Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But He answered her not a word." Not a word!
Why was this? She was on totally wrong ground. What had she to do with the Son of David? Had the Lord merely been the Son of David, could He have given her the blessing He had in His heart? She appealed to Him as if she were one of a chosen people who had claims upon Him as their Messiah. Was it ever promised that Messiah was to heal the Canaanites? Not a word about it. When the Messiah does come as Son of David, the Canaanites will not be there. Look at Zechariah 14, when our Lord shall be King over all the earth, "In that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the Lord of Hosts." The judgments which were not thoroughly executed by Israel, because they were unfaithful to the trust of the Lord, are to be executed when the Son of David will take His inheritance. This woman was altogether confused about it. She had the conviction that He was much more than the Son of David, but she did not know how to bring it out. It is, I think, in much the same way that many persons now, anxious about their sins, have tried the Lord's Prayer, and have asked the Father to forgive them their sins as they forgive others. They go to God as their Father, and ask of Him to deal with them as children. But this is the very thing which is not yet settled. Are they children? Can they say that God is their Father? They would shrink from it. It is that which they chiefly desire, but they fear it is not so; that is, they have no right to draw near to God on the footing of a relationship which does not exist. And when persons are thus confused, they never get thorough peace to their souls. Sometimes they are hoping they are children of God, sometimes fearing they are not, cast down with the sense of the evil within them. The fact is, they do not understand the matter at all. They are quite right in wishing to turn to God, but they do not know how to do it. They fear going to God just as they are giving up all thought of having promises or anything else. This shows the wrongness of an anxious soul seeking after God on the ground of promises. A good deal is said about sinners "grasping the promises:" but promises in the Old Testament were for Israel; in the New, for Christians. But you are neither an Israelite nor a Christian. A soul brought to that point is confounded.
It is good for a soul to be brought to this: I have no claim upon God for anything; I am a lost sinner. If God shakes a person from what they have no right to, if He strips them of everything, it is for the purpose of giving them a blessing that He has a right to give them. People forget that now it is the righteousness of God — God's right to bless through Christ Jesus, according to all that is in His heart. Men are lost; but they are afraid to confess the true ruin in which they are found. To this the Lord was leading the poor woman of Canaan. He was bringing her down to feel that she had no right to the promises — made indeed to Israel, but where were any promises to the Canaanites? Thus, on the ground of His being the Son of David it was impossible for the Lord to give her what she asked. She did not understand this. She thought that if an Israelite might go on the ground of promise, she might. But it is a mistake. The poor woman thus made it meet not to answer her. It was grace and tenderness that led Him not to answer her: He remains silent till she drops the ground that she had first taken.
But the disciples were not silent; they wanted to get rid of her importunity; they did not like the trouble of her. "They came and besought Him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us." But the Lord confirms what has been already said as to the wrongness of her plea. He says, as it were, She does not belong to the house of Israel: I cannot give her a blessing on the ground she takes, but I will not send her away without a blessing. He was there with special privileges to the sheep of the house of Israel, but she was not a sheep. "He answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then the poor woman "came and worshipped Him, saying, Lord, help me." She drops the words "Son of David." She no longer uses the title which connects Him with Israel, but acknowledges generally His authority. Now He answers her, though she is not yet low enough. When she appeals to Him as Lord, a suitable title, He answers, "It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs." The moment that this is uttered, all the secret is out. "Truth, Lord," she says, "yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." She takes the place of being a dog. She acknowledges that Israel was, in the outward ways of God, the favoured people, as children eating of bread upon the table; whereas, the Gentiles were but the dogs underneath. She acknowledges it, and it is very humbling. People do not like it now. But she is brought down to it. The Lord may, for the purpose of leading us into deeper blessing, break us down to the very lowest point of the truth about ourselves. But was there no blessing even for a dog? She falls back upon this truth: Let it be that I am a dog; has not God some blessing for me? Here the Lord meets her with fullest blessing. He meets her with the strongest approbation of her faith — "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt." The Lord had pronounced the sentence upon the nation of the Jews who were only hypocrites, and gone out to the Gentiles. Faith meets Him there; a faith that penetrates through outward circumstances, and bears the discovery of the low place we ought to take; and the poor woman is blessed to her heart's content. "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour." Unlimited grace is bestowed upon a Gentile under special curse; and the heart of our Lord is refreshed by her faith.
But there is more. Having visited the Gentiles, the Lord now returns to Israel in sovereign goodness. "Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the Sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain and sat down there. And great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus' feet, and He healed them: insomuch that the multitude wondered when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel" (vers. 29-31). I consider that this is a picture of Israel feeling their real condition. They are coming to Jesus, looking to Him, and saying, as it were, "Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." They are to speak thus by and by; and the Lord declared they should not see Him till they should say, "Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord." What they saw in Jesus led them to glorify the God of Israel. Thus the Lord will have relations with Israel. They come, not now in controversy, but as a poor, maimed, blind, and miserable multitude; and the Lord heals them all. But this is not all: He feeds them as well as heals them; and we have the beautiful miracle of the loaves.
But mark the differences. In a former case, the disciples were for sending the multitudes away; and the Lord allowed them to show out their unbelief. In the present instance, it is Christ Himself who thinks of them and purposes to bless them. "I have compassion on the multitude," He says, "because they continue with Me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way" (ver. 32). You may remember that it is said in Hosea 6, "After two days will He revive us; in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight." It is the adequate time of the trial of the people. Literally, it was the time our Lord lay in the grave. But it is connected also with the future blessing of Israel. "I will not send them away fasting lest they faint by the way. And His disciples say unto Him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?" How slow they are to learn the resources of Christ, as before to learn the worthlessness of man! "Jesus saith unto them, How many loaves have ye? And they said, Seven, and a few fishes." It is not now five loaves and twelve baskets full left; but with seven loaves they begin, and with seven baskets full they end. The reason is this: seven stands for spiritual completeness in Scripture, and this is intended to show the fulness with which the Lord makes the blessing to flow to His people — the fulness of provision that they have in Him. "He took the seven loaves and the fishes, and gave thanks, and brake them, and gave to His disciples, and the disciples to the multitude." I conceive this to be a picture of the Lord providing amply for the Jews — the beloved people of His choice, whom He never can abandon, to whom He must accomplish His promises, because He is the faithful God. Here the Lord, out of His own heart, is providing fully even for their bodily refreshment. This will be the character of the millennial day, when not only the soul will be blessed, but when every kind of mercy will abound; God vindicating His earth from the hand of Satan, who had long defiled it. In the seven loaves before they ate, and the seven baskets of fragments taken up after they had eaten, you have the idea of completeness, an ample store for the present and for wants to come.
In the last chapter, which introduces a new part of the subject in Matthew, we saw two great pictures: first, the hypocritical disobedience of those who boasted of the law completely exposed out of their own prophets, as well as by the touchstone of the Lord Himself; and, secondly, the true nature of grace shown to one whose circumstances demanded nothing but sovereign mercy if she were to be blessed at all. At the close, the Lord's patient and perfect grace towards Israel is manifested, spite of the condition of the Jewish leaders. If He compassionated the Gentiles, His heart still yearned over His people, and He showed it by repeating the great miracle of feeding thousands in their needy condition; with no figure here of retirement from earth, which we saw in chapter 14, following the first miracle of feeding the multitudes — the type of our Lord's occupation at the right hand of God.
Now we have another picture, quite distinct from the previous one, though akin to it. It is not the flagrant disobedience of the law through human tradition, but unbelief — the source of all disobedience. Hence, in the language employed by the Holy Ghost, there is only a shade of difference between the words unbelief and disobedience. The former is the root of which the latter is the fruit. Having shown us the gross systematic violation of God's law, even by those who were religious leaders in Israel, and having convicted them of it, a deeper principle is now brought out. All that disobedience Godward flowed from unbelief of Himself, and, consequently, misapprehension of their own moral condition. These two things always go together. Ignorance of self flows from ignorance of God; and ignorance of both ourselves and God is proved by despising Jesus. And what is true in full of the unbeliever, partially applies to the Christian who in any measure slights the will and person of the Lord. All these are only the workings of that heart of unbelief of which the apostle warns even believers. The grand provision against this, the operation of the Holy Ghost, in contrast with the working of the natural mind of man, comes out here plainly.
"The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting, desired that He would show them a sign from heaven." They were beginning the same story over again; but now it is higher up the source, and, of course, therefore, worse in principle. It is an awful thing to find opposed parties with one only thing uniting them — dislike of Jesus; persons who could have torn each other to pieces at another time, but this is their gathering point — tempting Jesus. "The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting," etc. There was no conflict between the scribes and Pharisees, but a wide chasm separated the Sadducees and Pharisees. Those were the freethinkers of the day; these the champions who stood up for ordinances and the authority of the law. But both joined to tempt Jesus. They desired a sign from heaven. The most significant token that God ever gave man was before them in the person of His Son, who eclipsed all other signs. But such is unbelief, that it can go into the presence of the full manifestation of God, can gaze at a light brighter than the sun at noonday, and there and then ask God to give a farthing candle.
But Jesus "answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?" (vers. 2, 3). Their own moral condition was the sign and proof that judgment was imminent. For those who could see, there was the fair weather, the Day-spring from on high that had visited them in Jesus. They saw it not! But could they not discern the foul weather! They were in the presence of the Messiah, and were asking for a sign from heaven! The God that made heaven and earth was there, but the darkness comprehended it not. "He came to His own and His own received Him not." They were utterly blind. They could discern physical changes, but had no perception of moral and spiritual glories actually before them. How truly — "A wicked and adulterous generation seek after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And He left them and departed."
Men constantly err as to the character of Jesus. They imagine that He could use no strong language and feel no anger; yet there it is in the Word, written in the light. Unbelief is always blind, and betrays its blindness most against Jesus. The same unbelief that could not then discern who and what Jesus was, sees not now Jesus coming, and discerns not the signs of their own impending ruin. It is the moral condition of men, no matter where they are, only the more remarkably manifested where the light of God is.
Our Lord does not hesitate to touch the evil with unsparing hand. He was the perfect manifestation of love: but let men remember He is the one who said, "wicked and adulterous generation," "generation of vipers, etc."! It flows from true love — if men would but bow to the truth that convicts them. To submit to God's word, to the truth now, in this world, is to be saved; to be convicted of the truth only in the next world is to be lost for ever. Christ was the faithful and true Witness; He brought God face to face with man, and caused His perfect light to shine upon them. Jesus can meet a soul in its ruin; He may eat with publicans to show that He is able to receive sinners — yea, came to seek and to save the lost, and to forgive sins to the uttermost; but He will never give any sign to satisfy the unbelief that rejects Him. These Pharisees and Sadducees would not hear His voice of grace, and they had to hear their own sentence from the judge of all the earth: "A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." Had Jesus not been there, to ask for a sign would not have been so wicked; but His presence made it audacious unbelief and frightful hypocrisy. And what was this sign? The sign of one that disappeared from the earth; that, through the figure of death, passed away from the Jewish people, and after a while was given back to them. It was the symbol of death and resurrection, and our Lord immediately acted upon it. He "left them and departed." He would pass under the power of death; He would rise again, and the message which Israel had despised, He would carry to the Gentiles.
But there are other forms of unbelief; and the next scene (ver. 5) is with His disciples: so true is it that what you find working in its grossest shape in an unconverted man may be traced, in another way perhaps, in believers. "Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." They did not understand Him; they reasoned among themselves; and whenever Christians begin to reason, they never understand anything. "They reasoned among themselves saying, It is because we have taken no bread."
There is such a thing, of course, as sound and solid deduction. The difference is that wrong reasoning always starts from man and tries to rise to God, while right reasoning starts from God towards man. The natural mind can only infer from his experience, and thus forms his ideas of what God must be. This is the basis of human speculation in divine things; whereas, God is the source, strength and guide of the thoughts of faith. How do I know God? In the Bible, which is the revelation of Christ from the first of Genesis to the end of Revelation. I see Him there, the key-stone of the arch, the centre of all Scripture speaks of; and unless the connection of Christ with everything is seen, nothing is understood aright. There is the first grand fallacy, the leaving out of God's revealing Himself in His Son. It is not the light behind the veil as under the Jewish system, but infinite blessing now that God has come to man, and man is brought to God. In the life of Christ I see God drawing nigh to man, and in His death man brought nigh to God. The veil is rent; all is out, of man on the one hand, and of God on the other, as far as God is pleased to reveal Himself to man in this world. All stands in the boldest relief in the life and death of Christ. But disciples are apt to be very dull about these things now as ever; and so when He warned them about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, they thought that He was merely speaking of something for daily life — very much like what we see at the present time. But our Lord "said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread" (ver. 8). Why did they not think of Christ? Would they have troubled themselves about loaves if they had thought rightly of Him? Impossible! They were anxious, or thought Him so, about bread! "Do ye not yet understand," says the Lord, "neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? How is it that ye do not understand that I spake it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? Then understood they how that He bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees" (vers. 9-12). And this is what disciples even now often misapprehend. They do not understand the hatefulness of unsound doctrine. They are alive to moral evils. If a person gets drunk or falls into any other gross scandal, they know, of course, it is very wicked; but if the leaven of evil doctrine work, they do not feel it. Why is it that disciples are more careful of that which mere natural conscience can judge, than of doctrine which destroys the foundation of everything both for this world and for that which is to come? What a serious thing that disciples should need to be warned of this by the Lord, and even then not understand! He had to explain it to them. There was the darkening influence of unbelief among the disciples, making the body the great aim, and not seeing the all-importance of these corrupt doctrines, which menaced souls in so many insidious forms around them.
But there is another way and scene in which unbelief works. This chapter is the dissection of the root of many a form of unbelief. "By faith we understand," says the apostle to the Hebrews. The worldly man tries to understand first and then to believe; the Christian begins with the feeblest understanding, perhaps, but he believes God: his confidence is in One above himself; and thus, out of the stone there is raised up a child unto Abraham. The Lord now questions the disciples as to the real gist of all the matter, whether among Pharisees, Sadducees, or disciples themselves. "He asked His disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" It is now Christ's person which comes out; and this, I need hardly say, is deeper than all other doctrine. "Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? And they said, Some say that Thou art John the Baptist; some Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets" (vers. 13, 14). There are so many opinions among men, unbelief argues, that certainty is impossible. Some say one thing and some another: you talk of truth and Scripture; yet, after all, it is only your view. But what says faith? Certainty, from God, is our portion, the moment that we see who Jesus is. He is the only remedy that banishes difficulty and doubt from the mind of man. "Whom say ye that I am?" (ver. 15). This was for the purpose of bringing out now what is the pivot of man's blessing and God's glory, and becomes the turning point of the chapter. Among these very disciples we are to have a blessed confession from one of them — the power of God working in a man who had been rebuked for his want of faith before, as he was indeed just after. When we are really broken down before God about our little faith, the Lord can reveal some deeper higher view of Himself than we ever had before. The disciples had mentioned the various opinions of men: one said He was Elias; another, John the Baptist, etc. "But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Glorious confession! In the Psalms He is spoken of as the Son of God, but very differently. There He is dealing with the kings of the earth, who are called upon to take care how they behave themselves. But the Holy Ghost now lifts up the veil to show that the "Son of the living God" involves depths far beyond an earthly dominion, howsoever glorious. He is the Son of that living God who can communicate life even to those dead in sin. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven."
First, the Father is revealing; and the moment Christ hears Himself confessed as the Son of the living God, He also sets His own seal and honours the confessor. It is the assertion of one who at once rises up to His own intrinsic dignity: "And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." He gives Simon a new name. As God had given to Abraham, Sarah, etc., because of some fresh manifestation of Himself, so does the Son of God. It had been prophetically announced before; but now comes out for the first time the reason why it was affixed to him. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church." What rock? The confession Peter had made that Jesus was the Son of the living God. On this the Church is built. Israel was governed by a law; the Church is raised on a solid and imperishable and divine foundation — on the person of the Son of the living God. And when this fuller confession breaks from the lips of Peter, the answer comes, Thou art Peter — thou art a stone: a man that derivest thy name from this Rock on which the Church is built.
In the early chapters of the Acts, Peter always speaks of Jesus as God's holy Servant. He speaks of Him as a man who went about doing good; as the Messiah slain by the wicked hands of men, whom God raised up from the dead. Whatever Peter might know Jesus to be, yet when preaching to the Jews, he presents Him to them simply as the Christ, as the predicted Son of David, who had walked here below, whom they had crucified and God had raised again. Then, at Stephen's martyrdom, a new term is used about the Lord. That blessed witness looks up and says, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God." It is not now merely Jesus as the Messiah, but "the Son of Man," which implies His rejection. When He was refused as the Messiah, Stephen, finding that this testimony was rejected, is led of God to testify of Jesus as the exalted Son of Man at God's right hand. When Paul is converted, which is given in the next chapter but one, he straightway preaches "Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God." He did not merely confess Him, but preached Him as such. And to Paul was entrusted the great work of bringing out the truth about "the Church of God."
So here, upon Peter's confession, the Lord says, "Upon this rock I will build My Church." You understand the glory of My Person; I will show you the work I am going to accomplish. Mark the expression. It is not, I have been building; but I will build My Church. He had not built it yet, nor begun to build it: it was altogether new. I do not mean there had not been souls believing in Him before, and regenerate of the Spirit; but the aggregate of saints from the beginning to the end of time it is an error to call "the Church." It is a common notion which has not one shred of Scripture for it. The expression in Acts 7:38, "The church in the wilderness," means the whole congregation — the mass of Israel — the greater part of whose carcasses fell in the wilderness. Can you call that "the Church of God?" There were but few believers among them. People are deceived in this by the sound. The word, "church in the wilderness," merely means the congregation there. The very same word is applied to the confused assembly in Acts 19, which would have torn Paul to pieces. If it were translated like Acts 7, it would be the "church in the theatre," and the blunder is obvious. The word that is translated "church" simply means assembly. To find out what is the nature of the assembly, we must examine the scriptural usage and the object of the Holy Ghost. For you might have a good or bad assembly: an assembly of Jews, of Gentiles, or of God's assembly distinct from either and contrasted with both, as can be readily and undeniably seen in 1 Cor. 10:32. Now it is this last which we mean, i.e., God's assembly, when we speak of "the Church."
What then, to return, does our Lord intimate when He says, "Upon this rock I will build My Church"? Clearly something that He was going to erect upon the confession that He was the Son of the living God, whom death could not conquer, but only give occasion to the shining forth of His glory by resurrection. "Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hades" — the power of death — "shall not prevail against it." This last does not mean the place of the lost, but the condition of separate spirits. "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven."
The Church and the kingdom of heaven are not the same thing. It is never said that Christ gave the keys of the Church to Peter. Had the keys of the Church or of heaven been given to him, I do not wonder that the people should have imagined a pope. But "the kingdom of heaven" means the new dispensation about to begin on earth. God was going to open a new economy, free to Jews and Gentiles, the keys of which He committed to Peter. One of these keys was used, if I may so say, at Pentecost when he preached to the Jews; and the other, when he preached to the Gentiles.* It was the opening of the kingdom to people, whether Jews or Gentiles. "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (ver. 19). The eternal forgiveness of sins has to do with God only, though there is a sense in which forgiving was committed to Peter and the other apostles, which remains true now. Whenever the Church acts in the name of the Lord, and really does His will, the stamp of God is upon their deeds. "My Church," built upon this rock, is His body — the temple of believers built upon Himself. But "the kingdom of heaven" embraces every one that confesses the name of Christ. This was begun by preaching and baptizing. When a man is baptized, he enters "the kingdom of heaven," even if he should turn out a hypocrite. He will never be in heaven, of course, if he is an unbeliever; but he is in "the kingdom of heaven." He may either be a tare or real wheat in the kingdom of heaven; an evil or a faithful servant; a foolish virgin or a wise one. The kingdom of heaven takes in the whole scene of Christian profession.
*It has been thought that the "baptizing" and "teaching," which the risen Lord commanded in sending the disciples to all nations Matt. 28:18-20 are really the "keys" of the kingdom. — [Ed.
But, as we have seen, when Christ speaks of "My Church," it is another thing. It is what is built upon the recognition and confession of His person — "the Son of the living God." We know that "he that believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God." And, again, "He that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God overcometh the world." But there is a deeper power of the Holy Ghost in acknowledging Him as the Son of God; and the higher the acknowledgment of Christ, the more spiritual energy in going through this world and overcoming it. If one believer is more spiritual than another, it is because he knows and values the person of Christ better. All power for Christian walk and testimony depends upon the appreciation of Christ.
Mark also the order of our Lord's words. First, "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father which is in heaven." Christ must be found outside the Church, and before it; Christ must be discerned first and foremost by the individual soul; Christ and what He is must, before and above all, be revealed to the heart by the Father. He may employ persons who belong to the Church as instruments, or may directly use His own word. But whatever the means employed, it is the Father revealing the glory of the Son to a poor sinful man; and when this is settled with the individual, Christ says, "Upon this rock I will build My Church." Faith in Christ is essentially God's order and way before the question of the Church comes in. This is one great controversy between God and the mystery of iniquity which is now working in this world. The aim of the Holy Ghost is to glorify Christ; whereas that of the other is to glorify self. The Holy Ghost is carrying on this blessed revelation that the Father has made of the Son; and when the individual question is settled, then comes the corporate privilege and responsibility — the Church.
If I have got Christ, it is infinitely blessed. But I ought to believe, also, that He is building His Church. Do I know my place there? Am I found walking in the light of Christ — a living stone in that which He is building — in healthy action as a member of His body? Salvation was wrought here upon earth, and here it is that the Church is being built upon this rock; and the gates of hades — the invisible state, or separate condition — shall not prevail against it. Death may come in, but the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. The Lord says in Revelation that He has the keys of death and hades. The death of the Christian is in the hands of Christ. By the cross He has annulled the power of Satan, and He is the Lord both of the dead and of the living; death is not our Lord, but Christ. "Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether, therefore, we live or die, we are the Lord's." The Lord has absolute right over us; and therefore death is robbed of all that makes it so terrible. In Revelation you have the Lord with the keys of death and hades. The keys of the kingdom of heaven He gives to Peter because he it was who was to preach to Jews and Gentiles. The door was flung open on the day of Pentecost first, and afterward yet more widely when the Gentiles were brought in.
Administration is also committed to Peter, both in binding and loosing; it is authority to act publicly here below, with the promise of ratification above: "Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." That is first said to Peter; and doubtless, from what we have in Matt. 18:18: "Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven," the binding and the loosing applies also to the other disciples; not to the apostles only, but, I believe, to the disciples as such. Compare also the charge in John 20:19-23. On that principle people are received into the Christian Church, and on that principle wicked persons are put away till repentance justifies their restoration. Apostles or disciples do not forgive sins as a matter of eternal judgment, of course, which God alone has the power to do. But God requires of us to judge a person's state for reception into or exclusion from the circle which confesses the name of Christ here below. In Acts 5 Peter bound their sin on Ananias and Sapphira. This does not prove that they were lost; but the sin was bound upon them, and brought present judgment. Neither Peter nor Paul was at Corinth; and there the Lord Himself laid His hand upon the guilty: some were weak and sickly, and some had fallen asleep. This does not decide against their final salvation — rather, indeed, the contrary. When they were judged of the Lord they were chastened, that they should not be condemned with the world (that is, that they should not be lost). They might be taken away by death, and yet be saved in the day of the Lord. The Church puts away a wicked person. The man at Corinth, whom they were told to excommunicate, was guilty of heinous sin, but was not lost. He was delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be "saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." In the next epistle we find this person so overwhelmed with sorrow on account of his sin that they were charged to confirm their love to him. Simple indeed is the binding and loosing which people often make so mysterious. The only sins that the Church ought to judge are those that come out so palpably as to demand public repudiation according to the word of God. The Church is not to be a petty tribunal of judgment for everything. We ought never to claim the assembly's intervention except about the evil that is so plain as to be entitled to carry the consciences of all along with it. This I take to be the meaning of binding and loosing.
"Then charged He His disciples that they should tell no man that He was the Christ." A remarkable change comes here. Peter had confessed Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God: now the Lord charges them to tell no one that He was the Christ. It was as good as saying, It is too late; I am rejected as the Christ — the Messiah, the Anointed of Jehovah. He is refused by Israel, and He accepts the fact. But mark another thing: "From that time forth began Jesus to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day" (ver. 2 1). In Luke 9:20, we are told, "He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God." "The Son of the living God" is not mentioned in Luke: consequently, nothing is said about the building of the Church. How perfect is Scripture! In Luke the Lord goes on to say, "The Son of Man must suffer many things," etc. There is a great distinction between "the Christ" and "the Son of Man." The latter is His title as rejected, then as exalted in heaven.
Forbidding the disciples to tell that He was the Christ is the turning-point in Christ's ministry. The meaning is that Christ drops His Jewish title, and He speaks of His Church. Before it comes, He says, "Upon this rock I will build My Church." From that time He began to show unto them how that He must "go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day." Luke adds that "He must first suffer," etc. All this is connected with the building of the Church, which began to be built after Christ rose from the dead and took His place in heaven. In Ephesians the Church is spoken of only after Christ's resurrection and His taking a new place in heaven have been brought out. We had God choosing the saints in Christ Jesus, but, not the Church. Election is an individual thing. He chose us — you and me, and all the other saints — that "we should be holy and without blame before Him in love." But when Paul has introduced Christ's death and resurrection, he says that God "gave Him to be the head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."
But mark a solemn fact. Immediately after Simon had made this glorious confession of the Lord Jesus, he is called, not Peter, but Satan! He had not said one improper word, according to human judgment. He had not even indulged in haste, as was often his wont. The Lord never called mere excitement "Satan"; but He so called Peter because he sought to turn Him away from suffering and death. The secret was this: Peter had his mind on an earthly kingdom, and neither fully felt what sin was nor what the grace of God was. He stood in the way of the Lord's going to the cross. Was it not for Peter that He was going there? Had Peter thought of this, would he have said, "Be it far from Thee, Lord?" It was man thwarting Christ, and He pronounces it Satan. "He turned and said unto Peter, Get thee behind Me, Satan: thou art an offence unto Me; for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men" (ver. 23). Peter thus feeling and acting connects with the mystery of iniquity; not with what was taught by the Father.
Our Lord turns to the disciples and puts before them that not merely is He going to the cross, but they must be prepared to follow Him there. If I am to be in the true path of Jesus, I must deny myself and take up the cross and follow — not the disciples — not this church or that church, but — Jesus Himself. I must turn from what is pleasing to my heart naturally. I must meet with shame and rejection in this present evil world. If not, depend upon it, I am not following Jesus; and remember, it is a dangerous thing to believe in Jesus without following Him. Following Jesus maybe like losing one's life. At the present time much confession of Christ is, comparatively, an easy matter. There is little opposition, or persecution. People imagine that the world is changed; they talk of progress and enlightenment. The truth is, Christians are changed. Let us ask ourselves whether we desire to be found taking up our cross and following Jesus. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for My sake shall find it" (vers. 24, 25).
What lessons for our souls! The flesh easily arrogates superiority over the spirit; and indulgence to the path of ease comes in (though of Satan) under the specious plea of love and kindness. Is the cross of Christ our glory? Are we willing to suffer in doing His will? What a delusion is present honour and enjoyment!
Our previous chapter has shown us Jesus rejected as Christ or Messiah, confessed as the Son of the living God, and about to return in glory as the Son of Man. But along with the glory in which He is to come and reward each according to his works, we have His suffering: not merely rejection, but His being put to death — raised the third day indeed, but still the suffering Son of Man, and to return in glory. Following up the subject of His Father's glory, in which He declares He is to come with His angels and judge in His kingdom, we have now a picture given on the holy mount — a striking picture in a twofold point of view. The glory, as we saw, of the kingdom depends upon His being the Son of Man, the exalted Man who had erst suffered, and in whose hands all glory is committed — who had at every cost retrieved the honour of God, and is to make effectual the blessing of man; who, by virtue of His suffering, has already brought to naught the power of Satan for those who believe, and who eventually, when the kingdom comes, is to expel Satan altogether, and bring in that for which God has been waiting — a kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. Accordingly, "After six days" (type of the ordinary term of work here below), "Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart" (ver. 1). That is, He takes chosen witnesses; for it was merely a testimony to the kingdom — the sample of what He had referred to when He said, "There be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom."
The point there is the Son of Man coming, rather than the kingdom itself; and what follows in our chapter is only a partial illustration of the glory of the rejected Son of Man. Partial though it be, nothing could be more blessed, save the kingdom itself; and faith brings us into a very real present realizing of that which is to be. It is "the substantiating of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The kingdom, of which our Lord spoke, is not yet arrived, of course. When it is said, "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God," He speaks of a kingdom which we do enter now. For John does not present it as a thing of mere outward manifestation, but gives a deeper revelation of the kingdom, true now, into which every one that is born of God comes, and which shall yet be displayed in its heavenly and its earthly power. But Matthew, who takes up the Jewish part, or Old Testament predictions of the kingdom, sketches us the presentation of the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.
The Lord, accordingly, takes these disciples "up into a high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them. And His face did shine as the sun, and His raiment was white as the light." The sun is the image of supreme glory, as that which rules the day. "And behold, there appeared unto them Moses and Elias talking with Him" — Moses, by whom the law was given, and Elias, the grand sample of the prophets, who recalled the people to the law of Jehovah. They were thus the pillars of the Jewish system, to whom every true Israelite looked back with the deepest feelings of reverence: one of them singled out as the only Jew taken to heaven, without passing through death; the other, lest he should become an object of worship after his death, having the singular honour of being buried by Jehovah. These two appear in the presence of our Lord. They were known to be Moses and Elias: there seems to have been no difficulty in recognizing them. So, in the resurrection-state, the distinction of persons will be kept up thoroughly. There will be no such thing as that kind of sameness which blots out the peculiarities of each. Though earthly relationships shall have passed away, and no peculiar earthly links which connected one with another on earth will survive, in heaven, yet each will retain his own individuality — with this mighty difference, of course, that all saints will bear the image of the heavenly; for while in the body we all resemble fallen Adam now, yet we are not all lost in one common indistinguishable throng. We each have our own proper character and our peculiar conformation of body. So in glory each will be known for what he is. Moses and Elias are seen as glorified, but as Moses and Elias still; and the Lord is transfigured in their midst. "Then answered Peter, and said unto Jesus, Lord, it is good for us to be here. If Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles, one for Thee, one for Moses, and one for Elias" — showing that he perfectly well knew which was which. "While he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and, behold, a voice out of the cloud which said, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him" (vers. 4, 5).
Herein, I conceive, lies the depth of the whole passage. Peter, meaning to do honour to his Master, but in a human way — still savouring in a measure the things of men and not of God — proposes to put his Master on common ground with the heads of the law and of the prophets. But it must not be. Whatever might be the honour of Moses, whatever the special charge of Elias, who were they, and what, in the presence of the Son of God? The Son may make nothing of Himself; but the Father loves the Son. Peter would put Him on a level with the most honoured of mankind; but the Father's purpose is that every knee shall bow to Him — that all men shall honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. Man never does this, seeing simply man in the Son, in no adequate way honouring Him with divine homage. Faith does, for it sees God in the Son, hears God in Him, and also finds Him in the peculiarly blessed relationship with the Father. For if Jesus were conceived to be simply God, and not the Son, it would be an incomparably less blessed revelation than that which we actually have. As to ourselves, if we had a divine nature without the blessed relationship of sonship before the Father, we should lose the very sweetest part of our blessing. And it is not barely the deity of Jesus that has to be owned (though this lies at the bottom of all truth), but the eternal relationship of the Son with the Father. Not merely was He Son in this world: it is most dangerous to limit the Sonship of Christ thus, for it is from all eternity. People reason, that because He is called Son, He must have a beginning in time, subsequently to the Father. All such argumentation ought to be banished from the soul of a Christian. The Scripture doctrine has no reference to priority of time. He is called Son in respect of affection and intimate nearness of relationship. It is the pattern of the blessed place into which grace brings us through union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Though in Him, of course, there are ineffable heights and depths beyond. But if we are simple about it, we gather from it the deepest joy that is to be found in the knowledge of the true God — and that in His Son.
The Father, then, interrupts the word of Peter, and answers Himself. The bright cloud that overshadowed them, Peter knew to be the cloud of Jehovah's presence: and the Father adds, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." It is not, This is your Messiah — He was that, of course, but He brings out the grand New Testament revelation of Jesus. He reveals Him as His own beloved Son, and His unqualified delight in Him. "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him" — this last also a statement of all importance. What was Moses, and what Elias now? They are entirely left out here by the Father. I need not say that every one who knows Jesus as the Son of God would be very far from despising Moses and Elias. They who understand grace have a far deeper respect for the law than the man who muddles grace and law together. The only full way to value anything that is of God is in the intelligence of His grace. I do not understand myself nor God till I know His grace; and I cannot know His grace, except as I see it revealed in His Son. "The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." He was full of grace and truth.
"Hear ye Him," is the Father's demand. It is no longer, Hear Moses, or Hear Elias, but "Hear ye HIM." Could anything be more startling to a Jew? All must give place to the Son. The dignity of the others is not denied, nor their due position slighted. To assert the glory of the sun in the heavens is in no way to despise the stars. God set Moses in his place, and Elias in another, as He saw fit; but what were they compared with His Son? How plain and sad that men should still be making two tabernacles — one for Moses (if not for Elias), and one for the Lord Jesus! They talk about God being the unchangeable God: but He who ordained the night made the day; and as surely as He once spake the law, He has now sent the gospel. I see here the display of the glory of God, showing out now one part of His character and now another.
This is not changing. God gives us to see His different attributes, and His various wisdom, and His infinite glory; but I must see each in its own sphere, and understand the intent for which God has given each. Moses and Elias were the two great cardinal points of the Jewish system; but now there is One who eclipses all that system — Jesus, the Son of God; and in presence of Him not even the representatives of the law or the prophets are to be heard. There is a fulness of truth that comes out in the Son of God; and if I want to understand the mind of God, as it concerns me now, I must hear Him. This was most difficult for a Jew to enter into, because His religion was based upon the law. Now, the beloved Son of God in whom the Father Himself expresses His perfect satisfaction is set before all — "Hear ye Him."
As Jesus is the object of the Father's infinite love, so He is the means of that same love reaching even to us. If I see Him to be the beloved Son of the Father, my soul rests upon Him and enters into communion with the Father. "Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." What is fellowship? It is our having common joy in a common object which we share with one another. We share in the joy of the Father and of the Son. The Father bids me hear the Son, and the Son declares the Father. We have fellowship with the Father, who points out to our hearts Him in whom He Himself delighted; we have fellowship with the Son, inasmuch as He makes known to us the Father. How shall I know the Father? — how know His feelings? In one way: I look at His Son, and I see the Father. The Son speaks, and I hear His voice. I know how He acts; I know His love — a love that can come down to the very vilest. Such was Christ; and now I am sure such is the Father also. I know what God the Father is when I follow the Son and listen to the Son. It is the Father He is revealing, not Himself: the Son came to make known what the Father is in a world that knew Him not. Even those who had faith, what thoughts had they about the Father? We have only to look at the disciples to see what scant answer to the Father's heart. Although they were born of God, up to this time they knew not the Father was revealing Himself in Jesus. Philip said, "Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us." Not that he did not divinely know Jesus as the Messiah; but he had not entered into the blessedness of what He was as the Son revealing the Father. It was only after the Holy Ghost came down, after the Son's departure to heaven, that they acquired the consciousness of the grace wherein they stood. So, yet more, the apostle Paul says, "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more." To know Christ at the right hand of God — to appreciate what He is there, is to know Him far better than if we had heard every discourse, and seen every miracle of His upon earth. The Holy Ghost brings it out more fully through His word. I am not saying now how far we enter practically into what the Holy Ghost is teaching, because this must after all, and rightly, depend on the measure of our spirituality. But the Holy Ghost is here to take of the things of Christ and show them to us — to make His glory known, and His sufferings, as it is the Father's delight that He should be known. But there were many things that they could not then bear. When the Holy Ghost was come, He should lead them into all truth.
Such is the object of the Father. He takes occasion of the glory of Jesus, manifested as Son of Man, to show that a still deeper glory attaches to Him. The kingdom of Christ by no means exhausts the glory of His person: and it is as connected with His deeper glory that the existence of the Church is brought out. It was the confession of His Sonship that elicited the word, "Upon this rock I will build My Church." This is the pith of the New Testament revelation — it is the Father revealing His Son, and the Spirit enabling us to receive what the Son is, both as the image of the invisible God, and as introducing us into fellowship with the Father. It is not God merely known as such, but the Father in the Son made known by the Holy Ghost. Hence it is that here in a Gospel especially written for Jewish believers, the Holy Ghost particularly marks this. (Compare the close of Matt. 11).
The disciples, confounded by what they heard, fall on their faces and are sore afraid. There was no communion with it yet. For the present they enter into it but slightly, though it was afterwards recalled to them by the Spirit of God. "And Jesus came and touched them, and said, Arise, and be not afraid. And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only" (vers. 7, 8). The heavenly vision had passed away for a time: they were on the mount alone with Jesus. What a joy! — if it vanish, He abides!
Let us just refer, briefly, to the account of this scene as given in the other Gospels. In Mark, the words, "In whom I am well pleased" are left out. The emphatic point, forgotten nowhere, is that He was the Son — in Mark, as in Matthew (not a Servant only, though truly such) — who is to be heard. But Matthew adds, "In whom I am well pleased." The satisfaction of the Father in the Son is given as the ground why He should be heard, as the full expression of His mind. In Luke we have another thing: "Behold, there talked with Him two men, which were Moses and Elias" (Luke 9:30). They are called "men" here in a distinct manner — this Gospel having been written more particularly in view of men at large. These men "appeared in glory, and spake of His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem." It is the subject of their conversation — of the deepest interest for us all. The death and sufferings of Jesus are the great theme on which men in glory converse with Jesus, the Son of God. And Jerusalem — Jerusalem! — would be the place of His death, instead of welcoming Him to reign! But we find here the sad traits of human weakness: Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep. Here again we find the Father's affection for His Son. The highest glories of Judaism wane — the Son is to be heard. The moral features are prominent throughout.
But, let us observe, John leaves out the transfiguration altogether; because his proper work was to dwell, not upon Christ's outward manifestation to the world as Son of Man in His kingdom, but on His eternal glory as the only-begotten Son of God; or, as he says himself, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father."
In 2 Peter 1:16-18, we have an allusion to this scene. It is said there, "He received from God the Father honour and glory" (confirming the remark, that this scene does not show us so much His essential glory as that which He received from God the Father) — "when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory" (or the cloud, which was the known external symbol of Jehovah's majesty), "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Peter leaves out "Hear ye Him," because, the revelation of Jesus having come out, the point that remains is the Father's delight in Jesus. I do not pretend to say how far the inspired writers knew all the mind of God in such a thing: they wrote as moved by the Holy Ghost.
As the disciples came down from the mount, the Lord charges them, saying, "Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of Man be risen again from the dead" (ver. 9). It was no longer a question of testifying to the kingdom of Christ. This was rejected. The vision was for the disciples, for strengthening their faith in Jesus. The Lord was occupying Himself with the souls of believers, not with the world. There is always a period when testimony of an outward kind may close. You may remember the time when Paul separates the disciples that were at Ephesus from the multitude, and leads them into what more particularly concerned them. For the time, till the Holy Ghost was given, till the Lord was risen from the dead, and power came from on high to make these things a fresh starting-point, it was of no use to speak of them any further.
Then we have, "His disciples asked Him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come and restore all things; but I say unto you that Elias has come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed" (vers. 10-12). He shows that, to faith, Elias was come. If the nation had received the word preached by John, Elias' mission would have been fulfilled, according to the prophecy in Malachi; but the nation refusing Jesus as well as His forerunner, faith alone could recognize the testimony of John the Baptist as being virtually that of Elias. This accords with the statement we had in Matthew 11, "If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was to come;" showing that it was not Elias actually and literally, but the spirit and power of Elias in the person of John the Baptist. The Messiah is coming in glory by and by, and Elias is coming too. But the Messiah was come in weakness now, and humiliation, and His forerunner had been put to death. It was Elias who was come in the person of the suffering John the Baptist, and his testimony was despised. The disciples are led into the secret of this: "Elias is come already, and they have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of Man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist" (vers. 12, 13).
But at the foot of that same mountain where the Lord displayed the glory of the kingdom, Satan also displayed his power. It was not broken yet. The kingdom was only a matter of testimony. The disciples failed to draw on the resources of Christ to put down the power of the enemy. A man comes to the Lord, kneeling down to Him and saying, "Lord, have mercy on my son; for he is lunatic and sore vexed; for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water" — the most opposite trials were thus brought together. "And I brought him to Thy disciples, and they could not cure him. Then Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to Me. And Jesus rebuked the devil, and he departed out of him. And the child was cured from that very hour" (vers. 15-18). The disciples wanted to know how it was that they could not cast him out, and He tells them, "Because of your unbelief." It is as sad as wonderful that unbelief is at the root of the difficulties Satan foists in; for he has lost his power over those that have faith. This child is a lunatic and sore vexed; but unbelief is unable to use the power of God, which ought to have been at the command of the disciples. "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place." The least working of faith in the soul is so far available for present difficulties. The power of the world, the settled power of anything here, which is what the mountain sets forth, would completely disappear before faith. "Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (vers. 20, 21). There must be dependence upon God in the conflict with the power of evil. It was Christ's moral glory and the secret of strength. The assumption of power, because of association with Jesus, simply fails and turns to shame. There must also be self-emptiness and self-denial, that God may act. When Jesus descends all Satan's power is broken and vanishes.
Then comes another declaration of His sufferings, but I will not dwell upon this now, beyond remarking that, as in Matthew 16:21 we had His sufferings through the Jews (elders, chief priests and scribes), so here it is rather Gentile rejection: "The Son of Man shall be betrayed into the hands of men." This follows the manifestation of His glory as Son of Man, while the other followed the confession of His still deeper glory as Son of God.
In conclusion, let us look at the beautiful lesson in the piece of money demanded for the temple. Peter there answers quickly according to his usual warmth of character. When the tax-gatherer came, who was connected with the temple, and the usual fee was demanded, Peter answered, very hastily, that of course his Master would pay the tribute. His mind went not beyond their Jewish position. It was not that any king of the earth was demanding tribute now of them; this was for Jehovah's temple. And our Lord anticipates Peter when they come to the house, and says to him, "What thinkest thou, Simon? of whom do the kings of the earth take custom or tribute? — of their children or of strangers?" Peter answers truly enough, "Of strangers." Then Jesus says to him, "Then are the children free." Nothing can be more beautiful than the truth taught us here: whatever be the glory of the coming kingdom, whatever the power of Satan, which disappears before the word of Jesus, whatever the faith which can remove mountains, nothing can take the Son of God out of the place of grace. He is the King, and Peter one of the "children" who are free, and yet to whom this demand was made. "Notwithstanding, lest we should offend them," says the Lord, "go thou to the sea, and cast a hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth, thou shalt find a piece of money, that take, and give unto them for Me and thee" (ver. 27).
This is the great wonder of Christ, and the practical wonder of Christianity, that while we have the consciousness of glory, and ought to pass through the world as sons of glory as well as sons of God, for this very reason the Lord calls us to be the humblest and meekest, taking no place upon the earth — I do not mean claiming no place for Christ, of course. It is our business to live for Christ and the truth: but where it is a question of ourselves, to be willing to be trampled on and counted as the off-scouring of the world. Flesh and blood are against it; but it is the power of the Spirit of God raising us above nature.
The Lord provides for all demands. He directs Peter how to find the piece of money, and says, "That take, and give unto them for Me and thee." What a joy that Jesus associates us with Himself, and provides for everything! — that Jesus, who proves Himself in this very thing to be God the Creator, with divine knowledge, having the command of the restless deep, making a fish to provide the money needed to pay the tax of the temple, should thus give us a place with Himself, and undertake for all our need! Nothing can more beautifully show us how, with the consciousness of glory, our place should ever be that of the bending and lowliness of Christ. How blessedly the Son stooped to be the servant, and leads the children into the same path of grace!
The Lord grant us to know how to reconcile these two things. We can only do it so far as our eye is upon Christ.
In Matthew 16 we had two subjects connected with the revelation of the Lord's person to Simon Peter: one of them, the Church, entirely new, or for the first time divulged; the other, the familiar subject of the kingdom of heaven. We shall find in the chapter before us these two things again brought together — not confounded or identified. We are called to see the kingdom and the Church in their practical bearing. We have already learned that the Lord was to build the Church. "Upon this rock" (the confession of His person) "I will build My Church." Afterward, He promised to give the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter.
Now we find (connected, I think, with the principle which actuated Himself) the consciousness of glory, and of the absolute command of all that He had made. He was the Lord of heaven and earth — if, in grace, He paid the tribute of the temple; for grace gives up its rights; at least, it does not seek to claim and exercise them for the present. And in the very consciousness of the possession of all glory, it can bow in this evil world. But, then, carefully observe that the soul is never to yield God's rights, but our own. We must be as unbending as a flint wherever God is in question. Grace never surrenders the true holiness, the claim, or will, of God; in fact, it is what strengthens the soul to value them and walk in them. There is often a practical difficulty that people do not understand. While we are called upon to walk in grace, it is a misuse of grace to suppose it to be an allowance of evil or indifference to it in our relations with God. Grace, while it meets us in our ruin, imparts a power we had not before, because it reveals Christ, strengthens the soul, gives a new life, and acts upon that life so as to carry us forward in the obedience as well as in the enjoyment of Christ. Our Lord shows that this ought to govern everything.
But first we have the spirit that befits us. "At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" This furnishes opportunity for our Lord to indicate the spirit that becomes the kingdom of heaven: "Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (ver. 3). Now this is what is wrought in a soul when it is converted: there is a new life given, even Christ. Hence there is much more than a change. That would be very far short of the truth as to a Christian. Of course the Christian is a changed man; but then the change is because of something still deeper. A Christian is a man born again, possessing a life now that he possessed not before. I do not mean merely that he lives after a new sort, but that he has a new life given to him which he had not before. It is in this way that he becomes a little child. Then this new life has to be cultivated and strengthened. Our natural life as men develops, or it may be checked and hindered by various circumstances. So it is with the spiritual life.
Our Lord shows here what is the characteristic moral feature that suits the kingdom of heaven; and this in opposition to Jewish thoughts of greatness. They were still thinking of the kingdom according to certain Old Testament delineations of it. When David came to the kingdom, his followers that had been faithful before were exalted according to their previous worth. You have the three great chiefs, and then thirty other warriors, and so on; all of them having their place determined by the way in which they had carried themselves in the day of trial. The disciples came with similar thoughts to our Lord, full of what they had done and suffered. The same spirit broke out on many occasions, even at the last supper. Our Lord here uses it to show that the spirit He loves in His disciples is to be nothing — to be without a thought of self, in a spirit of lowliness, dependence, and trust, that does not think about itself. This is the natural feeling of a little one. In the spiritual child this self-forgetfulness is exactly the right feeling. The little child is the standing witness of true greatness in the kingdom of heaven. In our Lord Himself this was shown, fully. The wonder was that He who knew everything, who had all power and might, could take the place of a little child; yet He did. And, indeed, you may be sure that the lowliness of a child is in no wise incompatible with a person being deeply taught in the things of God. It is not a lowliness that shows itself in phrases or forms, but the reality of meekness that confides not in itself, but in the living God; and this has the respect which God Himself loves there should be toward those around it. Perfect humility was just as much a feature of our Lord Jesus as the consciousness of His glory. The two things may go well together; and you cannot have becoming Christian humility unless there be the consciousness of glory. To behave ourselves lowlily, as children of God, is the beautiful thing the Lord is here putting before us.
"Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (ver. 4). It is not merely the becoming like little children as begotten of God, but there is the practical humbling of ourselves. And not only the humbling of ourselves, but how we feel toward others: "Whosoever shall receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me." Whatever may be the lowliness of the Christian, he should be viewed with all the glory of Christ, which is meant by receiving him in the name of Christ. It is a person that does not defend his rights, nor assert his own glory, but is willing to bend and make way for any one, while conscious of the glory that rests upon him. There may be the very opposite of this — "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in Me." What is meant by this? Anything calculated to shake their confidence in Christ, to put a stumbling-block in their way. It does not mean anything said in faithful love to their soul. People may take offence at this; but it is not what is spoken of here. It is what tends to shake the confidence of the little one in God Himself. "Whoso shall offend one of these little ones that believe in Me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." These things are constantly occurring in the world. Therefore, says the Lord, "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." What is to be done? The Lord shows in two forms the way to guard against these stumbling-blocks. The first is this — I must begin with myself. This is the most important means of not stumbling another. "Wherefore, if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off and cast them from thee." It may be in one's service, or in one's walk; but if thy hand or foot become the occasion of stumbling (something in which the enemy takes advantage against God), deal resolutely at once with the evil thing. "It is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire" (vers. 6-8).
The Lord always puts the full result of evil before the soul. In speaking of the kingdom of heaven, He takes into account that there may be persons in it false as well as true. He therefore speaks generally. He does not pronounce upon them; for some may be truly born of God and others not. The Lord solemnly puts before them that such as are indifferent about sin are not of God. It is impossible for a soul to be regenerate and habitually careless about that which grieves the Holy Ghost. Therefore He puts before them the certainty of such being cast into everlasting fire. Of no one who is born of God could this be said. But as there may be in the kingdom of heaven a false profession as well as a true, the believer is to look well to it, that he do not allow sin in any of his members. "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell-fire." It may cost ever so much, but God is not a hard Master; none is so tender and loving. And yet it is God giving us His mind by the Lord Jesus, showing us that this is the only way of dealing with that which may become an occasion of sin. (Compare Eph. 5:5-6).
The first great source of offense to others, and which must be first removed, is that which is a stumbling-block to our own souls. We must begin with self-judgment. But there is also the despising the little ones that belong to God. "Take heed," says our Lord, "that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.* For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost" (vers. 10, 11). A beautiful word, especially as it is so broadly stated by our Lord as to take in literally a little child as well as the little ones that believe in Him. I believe this chapter was meant to give encouragement touching little ones. The plea on which our Lord goes is, not that they were innocent (which is the way in which they are so often spoken of among men), but that the Son of Man came to save that which was lost. It supposes the taint of sin, but that the Son of Man came to meet it: so that we are entitled to have confidence in the Lord, not for our own souls only, but for the little ones too.
* What our Lord calls here "their angels" seem to be the spirits of children now in heaven — the spirit representing the person in the present state until the resurrection. Compare Acts 12:15; Heb. 12:23, and Rev. 1:20 — this last representing the assembly. A "guardian angel," of which some speak as the meaning here, does not seem to give a good reason for the Lord's warning; nor is it anywhere mentioned in Scripture. [Ed.
But our Lord goes further. "How think ye? If a man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it; verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (vers. 12-14). No doubt we can embrace all those that are saved on the same principle. The Gospel of Luke shows us (Luke 15) this very parable applied to any sinner. But here the Lord is taking it up in connection with the foregoing, namely, right feelings for one who belongs to the kingdom of heaven. Starting from a little child whom He sets in the midst, He carries the thought of the little one all through this part of His discourse. And now He closes with the proof, in His own mission, of the interest which the Father takes in these little ones.
Then the Lord applies it to our practical conduct. Supposing your brother does you wrong; an evil word, perhaps, or an unkind action done against you — something that you feel deeply as a real personal trespass against you; it is a sin, of course. Nobody knows it, probably, but himself and you. What are you to do? At once this great principle is applied: When you were ruined and far from God, what met your case? Did God wait till you put away your sin? He sent His own Son to seek you, to save you. "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." This is the principle for you to act upon. You belong to God; you are a child of God. Your brother has wronged you? Go you to him, and seek to set him right. It is the activity of love which the Lord Jesus presses upon His disciples. We are to seek the deliverance, in the power of divine love, of those who have wandered from God. The flesh feels and resents wrong done against itself. But grace does not shroud itself up in its own dignity, waiting for the offender to come and humble himself and own his wrong. The Son of Man came to seek the lost. I want you, He says, to be walking after the same principle, to be vessels of the same love — to be characterized by grace, going out after that which has sinned against God. This is a great difficulty, unless the soul is fresh in the love of God, and enjoying what God is for him. How does God feel about the child that has done wrong? His loving desire is to have him right. When the child is near enough to know the Father's heart he goes out to do the Father's will. A wrong may have been done against him, but he does not think about that. It is his brother who has slipped into evil, and the desire of his heart is to have the brother righted who had gone astray — not to vindicate self, but that his soul may be restored to the Lord.
"Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone" (ver. 15). It is not here the case of a sin known to a great many, but some personal trespass only known to you two. Go, then, to him, and tell him his fault between you and him alone. "If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." Love is bent on gaining the brother. So it is to him that understands and feels with Christ. It is not the offender, but thy brother that is the thought before the heart: "Thou hast gained thy brother."*
*Forgiveness is necessarily based on the "hearing," — "if he shall hear thee" — which shows the heart is not continuing in the wrong. Ed.
"But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." Is it possible he may resist one or two who come to him, witnesses of the love of Christ? He has refused Christ pleading by one; can he refuse Christ now that He pleads by more? It may be, alas, that he will. "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church." The Church means the assembly of God in the place to which these all belong. "If he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church; but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican" (ver. 17). The assembly, then, is told of the guilty person's fault. The thing has been investigated and pressed home. The Church warns and entreats this man, but he refuses to hear; and the consequence is — "Let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican." A most solemn issue! A man who is called a brother in the verse before is to me as a heathen man and a publican now. We are not to suppose the man to be a drunkard or a thief; but showing the hardness of self-will and a spirit of self-justification. It may arise out of small circumstances; but this unbending pride about himself and his own fault is that on which he may, according to the Lord, be regarded as a heathen man and a publican — no more to acknowledge him in his impenitent state. And yet it may spring mainly from the spirit of justifying oneself. In the case of open sin or wickedness, the duty of the Church is clear: the person is put away. Nor would there be reason in such a case for going one at a time, and then one or two more. But the Lord shows here how the end of this personal trespass might be that the Church has finally to hear it — and it may lead to something more.
"Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven." It is not a mere question of agreement, but of what is done in the name of the Lord. (See 1 Cor. 5:4.) "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, That if two of you shall agree on the earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them." Whether for discipline or for making requests of God, the Lord lays down this great principle, that where two or three are gathered together unto His name, He is in the midst of them. Nothing could be more sweet and encouraging. And I am persuaded that the Lord had in view the present ruin of the Church, when there might be ever so few gathered aright, assembled in obedience to the word of God, and carrying it out according to the will of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But a person may ask, Are any upon that ground? I can only say that the Christians who fall back on Scripture, owning the faithful presence of the Spirit in the assembly on earth, are taking an immense deal of trouble for a delusion if they are not. They are very foolish in acting as they do unless they are sure that it is according to the mind of God. Ought you to have more doubt how Christians should meet together for worship or mutual edification than about any other directions in the word of God? If we are not restrained by human rules, if the word of God alone is followed, there is entire liberty to carry out its directions. But while speaking thus confidently, on the other hand ought we not to take a very low place? When members of Christ's body are scattered here and there, humiliation alone becomes us; not only because of others' ways, but our own. For what have we been to Christ and the Church? It would be very wrong to call ourselves the Church; but if we were only two or three meeting in the name of Christ, we should have the same sanction and Christ's presence as if we had the twelve apostles with us. If through unbelief and weakness the Church at large were broken up and scattered, and if, in all this confusion, there were only two or three who had faith to act upon the Lord's will, for them the word would still be true, "Where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them." It is the presence of Christ and obedience to Him that give sanction to their acts. If the Church has fallen into ruin, the business of those who feel this is to depart from known evil — "Cease to do evil; learn to do well." We always have to come back to first principles when things get astray. This is the obligation of a Christian man.
Peter then asks our Lord, "How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" (ver. 21.) We had instruction how we were to act in the case of a personal trespass. But Peter raises another question. Supposing my brother sins against me over and over, how often am I to forgive him? The answer is, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven." In the kingdom of heaven — not under the law, but under the rule of the rejected Christ — forgiveness is unlimited. How wonderful — the deeper holiness revealed in Christianity, is at the same time, that which feels with deepest love, and goes out with it to others! So we find here, "I say not unto thee, Until seven times," which was Peter's idea of the largest grace, "but, Until seventy times seven." Our Lord insists that there really was no end to forgiveness. It is always to be in the heart of the Christian.
"Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king which would take account of his servants" (ver. 23). And then we have two servants brought before us. The king forgives one of them who had been very guilty (who owed him ten thousand talents — practically, a debt that never could be paid by a servant). On his entreaty, the king forgives him. The servant then goes out and meets a fellow-servant who owes him a hundred pence — a small sum indeed in comparison with that which had just been forgiven to himself. Yet he seizes his fellow-servant by the throat, saying, "Pay me that thou owest." And the king hearing it summons the guilty man before him. What is taught by this? It is a comparison of the kingdom of heaven, and refers to a state of things established here below by God's will. While we may, and must, take the principle to ourselves, much more is taught than this.* Taken in the large way, the servant that owes the ten thousand talents represents the Jew, peculiarly favoured of God, who yet had contracted the enormous debt that he never could pay. When they had completed this debt by the death of their Messiah, a message of forgiveness was sent them — "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." They had only to do so, and their sins would be blotted out: God would send the Messiah again, and bring in the times of refreshing. The Holy Ghost, answering the prayer of our Lord upon the cross, uses Peter to tell them, "I wot, brethren, that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. … Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out," even as the Lord had said, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Thus the servant had heard the sound of forgiveness to himself, yet with no real apprehension of it. He goes out and casts a fellow-servant into prison for a very small debt. This is the way in which the Jews acted toward the Gentiles. And thus all the debt that God had forgiven them became fastened upon them. The master says to the servant, "O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow-servant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him" (vers. 32-34).
* While forgiveness or retension of guilt governmentally is the subject of this kingdom parable, an unforgiving, relentless spirit would show a heart untouched by God's mercy, with eternal consequences attaching. — [Ed.
I do not doubt that you may apply this to an individual who has heard the gospel, and who does not act according to it. The principle of it is true now of any mere professor of the gospel in these days, who acts like a worldly man. But taking it on the broader scale, you must bring in the dealings of God with the Jews. The day is coming when the Lord will say that Jerusalem has received of His hand double for all her sins. He will apply to them the blood of Christ, which can outweigh the ten thousand talents, and more. But the unbelieving generation of Israel are cast into prison, and will never come out: the remnant will, by the grace of God; and the Lord will make of the remnant a strong nation.
Meanwhile, for us the great principle of forgiveness is what we have need to remember. We have specially to remind our souls in the case of anything that is against ourselves. May we at once look steadfastly at what our God and Father has done for us! If we can, in the presence of such grace, be hard for some trifling thing done against ourselves, let us bethink ourselves how the Lord judges here.
May the Lord grant that His words may not be in vain for us, that we may seek to remember the exceeding grace that has abounded towards our souls, and what God looks for from us!
We have had the announcement of the kingdom of heaven and then of the Church. We have seen them as distinct, though connected, in Matthew 16; then in Matthew 18, the practical ways which suit them. It was necessary also to bring out the relation of the kingdom to God's order in nature. The relationships which God has established in nature are entirely apart from the new creation, and are carried on when a soul enters the new creation. The believer is still a man here below, although as a Christian he is called not to act on human principles, but to do the will of God. It was therefore of much importance to know if the new things affect the recognition of that which had been already set up in nature. Accordingly, this chapter largely reveals the mutual relations of what is of grace and what is in nature. I am, of course, using the word "nature," not in the sense of "the flesh," which expresses the principle and exercise of self-will, but of that which God ordained in this world before sin came in, and survives the ruin. It is only the man that understands grace that can enter into and thoroughly recognize the outward natural order in the world. Grace never leads a person to slight anything God has introduced, it matters not what it might be. Take for example the law; what a profound error to suppose that the gospel weakens or annuls God's law! On the contrary, as the apostle Paul teaches in Romans 3, by faith "we establish the law." If I am on legal ground, there is terror, anxiety, darkness; the dread of meeting God as a judge: the law keeps up all these thoughts as long as I am here, and very properly. Hence, it is only the man who knows that he is saved by grace, lifted above the region to which the law applies its death-stroke, who can gravely, yet in peace, look at it and own its power, because he is in Christ, above all condemnation. A believer can do it, just because he is not under law; for, "As many as are of the works of the law are under the curse." If he were under the law even as to his own walk and communion, and not his standing before God, he must be miserable; the more so, in proportion as he is honest in regard to the law. The attempt to be happy under the law is a most painful struggle, with the danger too of deceiving ourselves and others. From all this grace delivers the soul, setting it on a new ground. But the believer can look with delight and see the wisdom and holiness of God that shine in His every arrangement and all His moral government. The law indeed is a testimony to what God forbids or wishes, but not the revelation of what He is. This you cannot find outside Christ. However, the law holds up the standard of that which God demands of man. It shows His intolerance of evil, and the necessary judgment of those who practise it. But we should be helplessly and hopelessly miserable if this were all; and it is only when the soul has laid hold of the grace of God that it can take pleasure in His ways.
This chapter, then, surveys the relationships of nature in the light of the kingdom. The first and most fundamental is that of marriage. "The Pharisees also came unto Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" (ver. 3). There you have the conduct of such as are on legal ground. There is really no respect for God, no genuine regard for His law. The Lord at once vindicates from Scripture the institution and the sanctity of marriage: "Have ye not read that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?" (ver. 4). That is, He shows it is not a mere question of what came in by the law, but He goes to the sources. God had first established it; and, far from dissolving the tie as men list, He made a single pair, and therefore only to be the one for the other. All other relationships were light in comparison of this closest tie — even union. "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave unto his wife; and the twain shall be one flesh." Next to the relationship of marriage is the tie of a child to its parents. It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of marriage as a natural institution. Who would talk of a child leaving his father and mother for any cause? The Pharisees even would not think of such a thing. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." They were ready with an answer: "Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?" (ver. 7). There was really no such command: a divorce was simply allowed.
Our Lord draws the distinction perfectly. Moses suffered certain things not according to the original archetypal intention of God. Nor should this be matter of wonder, for the law made nothing perfect. It was good in itself, but it could not impart goodness. The law might be perfect for its own object, but it perfected nothing, nor was it ever the intention of God that it should. But more than this: there were certain concessions contained in the law which did not at all express the divine mind; for God therein was dealing with a people after the flesh. The law does not contemplate a man as born of God; Christianity does. Men of faith during the law were of course born of God. But the law itself drew no line between regenerate and unregenerate; it addressed all Israel, and not believers only; hence suffered certain things in view of the hardness of their hearts. So that our Lord, while intimating a certain consideration of Israel's condition in the flesh, at the same time vindicated God's law from the corrupt deductions of these selfish Pharisees. "From the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery. And whosoever marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery" (vers. 8, 9). Our Lord adds here what was not in the law, and brings out the full mind of God touching this relationship. There is but one just cause for which it may be dissolved; or rather, marriage must be dissolved morally in order to terminate as a matter of fact. In case of fornication, the tie is all gone before God; and the putting away merely proclaims before man what has already taken place in God's sight. All is made perfectly clear. The righteousness of the law is established as far as it went, but it stops short of perfection by admitting in certain cases a less evil to avoid a greater. Our Lord supplies the needed truth — going up to the very beginning, and on to the end also.
Thus it is that Christ, the true light, alone and always introduces the perfect mind of God, supplying all deficiencies and making all perfect. This is the aim, work and effect of grace. Nevertheless, "His disciples say unto Him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry" (ver. 10). Alas! the selfishness of the heart even in disciples. It was so much the custom then to dismiss the wife because of petty dislike, etc., that it shocked them to hear the Lord insisting on the indissolubility of the marriage tie.
But, says the Lord, "All men receive not this saying, save they to whom it is given. For there are some eunuchs which were so born from their mother's womb; and there are some eunuchs which were made eunuchs of men; and there be eunuchs which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it" (vers. 11, 12). There, I apprehend that, while maintaining the institution of marriage naturally, the Lord shows there is a power of God that can raise people above it. The apostle Paul was acting in the spirit of this verse, when he gives us his own judgment as one that had "obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful" (1 Cor. 7:25). Doubtless he was called to a remarkable work, which would have made due attention to family relationship very difficult. His business lay and took him everywhere. Wherever there were churches to care for, wherever souls cried, Come over and help us — and far beyond the calls of saints or men, the Holy Ghost laid it on his devoted heart. With wife or family to care for, the work of the Lord could not have been so thoroughly done. Hence the wise and gracious judgment of the apostle, not given as a command, but left to weigh on the spiritual mind. The last of the three classes in the verse is figuratively expressed: it means, plainly, living unmarried for God's glory. But mark, it is a gift, not a law, much less a caste. Only such receive it "to whom it is given." It is put as a privilege. As the apostle presses the honourableness of marriage, he was the last to lay the smallest slur on such a tie; but he also knew of a higher and all-absorbing love, an entrance, in measure, into the affections of Christ for the Church. Still this is not an imposed obligation, but a special call and gift of grace in which he rejoiced to glorify his Master. The appreciation of the love of Christ to the Church had formed him in its own pattern. Observe here, it is "made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake" — that order of things which depends on Christ now in heaven. And hence, strong in the grace that shines in Him at the right hand of God, they to whom it is given walk above the natural ties of life — not despising them; but honouring them, while individually surrendering themselves to that goodly portion which shall not be taken from them.
And now children are brought unto Him — little ones, apt to be despised. What in this world so helpless and dependent as a babe? "Then were brought unto Him little children, that He should put His hands on them, and pray" (ver. 13). The disciples thought it an annoyance or a liberty, and "rebuked them. But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven. And He laid His hands on them, and departed thence" (vers. 13-15). So completely were all the demands of love met even where the desire seemed ever so unseasonable. For why should the Lord of heaven and earth occupy Himself with putting His hands upon little ones? But love is not restrained by human reason, and the unworthy thoughts of the disciples were set aside, who thought babes unworthy of His notice. Ah! how little they knew Him, long as they had been with Him. Was it not worthy of Him so to bless the very least in man's eyes? How important a lesson for our souls is this? It need not be one connected with ourselves; it might be another's child. Do we claim the Lord for it? What is His feeling? He is great, He is mighty; but He despiseth not any.
Before His glory there is not so much difference between a world and a worm. The world is a mere cipher, if God measures by Himself. But then, the feeblest may be the object of His deepest love and care. Our Lord looked at these babes, oh, with what interest! They are the objects of the Father's love, for whom He gave His Son, and whom the Son came to save. Each had a soul: and what was its value? What to be a vessel of grace in this world, and of glory in the bright eternal day? The disciples did not enter in these thoughts; and how little our own souls enter into them. Jesus not only blessed the babes, but rebuked the disciples, who had misrepresented Him; and He says, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven." A withering word for pride. Were the disciples "of such" at that moment, or at least in that act?
And now a young man "came and said unto Him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?" He was evidently a lovely natural character; one who combined in his person every quality that was estimable; one who had not only all that men think productive of happiness in this world, but apparently sincere in desiring to know and do the will of God. And, further, he was attracted by and came to Jesus. In another Gospel we read that "Jesus loved him;" not because he believed in and followed Jesus; for, alas, we know he did not. But there are various forms of divine love, besides that which embraces us as returned prodigals. While we have a special love for the children of God, and in the things of God ought to value only that which is of the Holy Ghost, it does not follow that we are not to admire a fine mind or a naturally beautiful character. If we do not, it only proves that we do not understand the mind of God as here manifested in Jesus. Even as to creation, am I to look coldly, or not at all, at rivers or mountains, the sea, the sky, valleys, forests, trees, flowers, that God has made? It is a total mistake that spirituality renders dull to His outward works. But am I to set my mind upon these sights? Are we to travel far and wide for the purpose of visiting what all the world counts worthy to be seen? If in my path of serving Christ a grand or beautiful prospect passes before me, I do not think that He whose handiwork it is calls me to close my eyes or mind. The Lord Himself draws attention to the lilies of the field brighter than Solomon in all his glory. Man admires that which enables him to indulge his self-love and ambition in this world. That is merely the flesh. But as to the beautiful, morally or in nature, grace, instead of despising, values all that is good in its own sphere, and does homage to the God who thus displayed His wisdom and power. Grace despises neither what is in creation nor what is in man. This young man the Lord "loved," when certainly as yet there was no faith at all. He went away from Jesus in sorrow. But what believer ever did, since the world began? His sorrow was because he was not prepared for the path of faith. Jesus desired him to follow Him, but not as a rich man. He would have been delighted to do "some great thing;" but the Lord laid bare self in his heart. He knew that (spite all that naturally, and even according to the law, was beautiful in him), there was self-importance at bottom — the flesh turning these very advantages into a reason for not following Jesus. But as nothing at all, he must follow Jesus. "Good Master," said he," what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" He had not learned the first lesson a Christian knows, what a convicted sinner is learning — that he is lost. The youth showed that he had never felt his own ruin. He assumed that he was capable of doing good; but the sinner is like the leper in Leviticus 13, who could not bring an offering to God, but only remain outside crying, "Unclean, unclean." The young man had no sense of sin. He regarded eternal life as the result of a man's doing good. He had been doing the law; and, as far as he knew, he never broke it.
Our Lord says to him, "Why callest thou Me good? There is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments." He may take him up on that ground. This man had no idea that the one to whom he was speaking was God Himself. He merely went to Him as a good man. On this footing the Lord would not allow Himself to be called good. God alone is. The Lord at first simply deals with him on his own ground. "If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments. He saith unto Him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (vers. 17-19). The Lord quotes the commands that relate to human duties — the second table of the law, as it is called. "All these," says the young man, have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet? But says the Lord, "If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me." And what then? "When the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions." He loved his possessions better than he loved Jesus. This gave our Lord an opportunity for unfolding another truth, and one most startling to a Jew, who regarded wealth as a sign of the blessing of God. It was in a similar spirit that the friends of job also acted, though they were Gentiles; for in truth it is the judgment of fleshly righteousness. They thought that God must be against job because he had got into unheard-of trial. The Lord brings out, in view of the kingdom of heaven, the solemn truth that the advantages of the flesh are positive hindrances to the Spirit.
"Then said Jesus unto His disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly" (that is, with difficulty; not, he cannot, but "shall hardly") "enter into the kingdom of heaven." Emphatically He repeats it, "Again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle" (beyond nature, of course) "than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. When His disciples heard it, they were exceedingly amazed, saying, Who then can be saved?" The Lord faces their objection: "Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (vers. 24-26)." If it was a question of man's doing anything to get into the kingdom, riches are only so much hindrance. And so it is with all else counted desirable. Whatever I may have, and trust in, whether it be moral ways, position, or what not — these are but impediments as far as concerns the kingdom, and make it impossible to man. But with God (and we may bless Him for it) all things are possible, no matter what the difficulty. Therefore God chooses in His grace to call all sorts and conditions of people. We read of a person called out of Herod's court; we read of saints in Caesar's household. A great company of the priests believed; so did Barnabas the Levite, with his houses and lands; nay, above all, Saul of Tarsus, brought up at the feet of Gamaliel. All these difficulties only gave God the opportunity to overcome all obstacles by His own power and grace.
When Peter heard how hard it was for the rich to be saved, he thought it time for him to speak of what they had given up for the Lord's sake, and to learn what they should get for it. Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?" How painfully natural was this! "Jesus said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That ye which have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man shall sit upon the throne of His glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life" (vers. 28, 29). There is nothing the believer does or suffers but what will be remembered in the kingdom. While this is most blessed, it is also a very solemn thought. Our ways now, though they have nothing to do with the remission of our sins, are yet of all consequence as a testimony to Christ, and will bear very decidedly on our future place in the kingdom. We must not use the doctrine of grace to deny that of rewards; but even so, Christ is the sole motive for the saint. We shall receive for the thing's done in the body according to that we have done, whether it be good or bad, as the Lord shows plainly here. The twelve had followed the rejected Lord, albeit His own grace had given them the power. It was not they who had chosen Him, but He had chosen them. They are now cheered by the assurance that in the blessed time of the regeneration, when the Lord will work a grand change in this world (for as He regenerates a sinner, so will He, as it were, regenerate the world), their work and suffering for His name will not be forgotten of Him.
Remember that what is spoken of here does not refer to heaven: there is still better work in heaven than judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Yet it is a glorious destiny reserved for the twelve apostles during the reign of Christ over the earth. A similar glory is designed for other saints of God, as we read in 1 Cor. 6:2: "Know ye not that the saints shall judge the world?" There it is used to show the incongruity of a saint seeking the world's judgment in a matter between himself and another; for the Christian's portion and blessing are entirely apart from the world, and he should be true to the objects for which Christ has called him.
As to all the natural relationships and advantages of this life, if lost for His name's sake, the losers shall receive a hundredfold and inherit everlasting life. The Gospel of John speaks of everlasting life as a thing that we possess now: the others speak of it as future. We have it indeed now dwelling in us; we shall then enter its own dwelling-place, and shall have its fulness in glory by and by. "But many that are first shall be last, and the last shall be first." What a hint to Peter — and to us all! A self-righteous claim is a ready snare, and soon finds its level. The leaving of all, if valued, has lost all its value. Thus many who began to run well turned aside from grace to law; and Peter himself was blamed by the last (but first) of the apostles, as we know from the Galatians.
The Lord make His grace the strength of our hearts; and if we have suffered the loss of any or of all things, may we still count them dung that we may win Him!
The last chapter closed with the important doctrine that in the kingdom the Lord will remember all suffering and service here for His name's sake. But it is evident that though this be an undoubted truth of Scripture, referred to in Paul's epistles, and elsewhere in the New Testament, it is one which the heart would be ready to abuse to self-righteousness; and that a person forgetting that all is of grace might be disposed to make a claim upon God by reason of anything which He had enabled one to do. Hence a parable is added with a totally different principle, in which the prominent thought is the sovereignty of God, for the express purpose, I think, of guarding against such effects. For God is not unrighteous to forget our work and labour of love which we may have shown toward His name: but there is a danger for us in it. It does not follow, because God will not forget what His people do for Him, that His people are to treasure it up themselves. We have but one thing to set our souls upon: it is Christ Himself; as the apostle said, "This one thing I do: forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those things that are before" — not forgetting what we have done wrong: the very reverse of this will be even in glory. When there is not a vestige of humiliation left, we shall have a more lively sense than ever of our manifold failures; but not as producing one feeling of doubt, or fear, or unhappiness. Such thoughts would be contrary to the presence of God. It is a good thing for the believer, while holding fast his full blessing, to think of what he is — to humble himself day by day in the sight of God; always remembering that true humiliation is on the ground of our being children of God. A person who had some office about the Queen, and had proper respect for her, would be thinking of her, not of himself. How much more when we are in the presence of God! This ought to fill our souls with joy in the worship of the Lord. What is comely for the saint, what is most acceptable to God, is not the constant bringing in of ourselves in one way or another, right as this may be, in a certain sense, in our closet. But the praise of God for what He is — above all, in the knowledge of His Son and of His work — is the great end of all the dealings of God with His children. The consciousness of our nothingness really shows the deepest and most real humility. Where there is habitual carelessness and lack of dependence, with their sad results, there will not be a preparedness of heart for worship. The proper thought connected with the Lord's table is that I am going to meet with Christ, to praise Him together with His saints; and this — the sense of being in His presence — keeps a check upon our spirits.
In order to keep us in this sense of grace, the Spirit of God recurs in this chapter to the sovereignty of God, the counteractive to the self-righteousness that is to be found even in the heart of a disciple. Peter said, "We have left all, and followed Thee," and the Lord assures him that it would not be forgotten; but He immediately adds the parable of the householder. Here we find, not the principle of rewards, or righteous recognition of the service done by His people, but God's own rights, His own sovereignty. Hence there are no differences here — no one specially remembered because he had won souls to Christ, or left all for Christ. The principle is, that while God will infallibly own every service and loss for the sake of Christ, yet He maintains His own title to do as He will. Some poor soul may be brought to the knowledge of Christ at the day of his death. God claims His own title to give what He pleases, to give to those who have not wrought anything at all — as we may think — just what is good in His own eyes. This is a very different principle from what we had in the last chapter, and exceedingly counter to the mind of man. "The kingdom of heaven is like to a man that is a householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard" (vers. 1, 2).
The common application of this parable to the salvation of the soul is a mistake. For this is that which Christ wrought for, suffered for, and lives for, independently of man. The poor sinner has just to give himself up to be saved by Christ. When brought to an end of himself, acknowledging that he deserves nothing but hell, how sweet that God brings before such a soul that Jesus Christ (and this is a faithful saying) came into the world to save sinners! When content to be saved as nothing but a sinner, and by nothing but Christ, there and then only is true rest given of Him. Wherever one thinks to contribute his part, it will be only uncertainty, and doubts, and difficulties. Christ alone is our salvation. The man that is saved contributes nothing but his sins. But in this parable the question is not this; it is the work of each servant, as the Lord is pleased to call to labour in His vineyard. If He please, He will put all upon an equal footing. He will reward the work that is done, but He will give as He will.
"When he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market-place; and said unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way" (vers. 2-4). It is not grace in the sense of salvation here. "Whatsoever is right I will give you." It is God that judges what is becoming. "Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise." And, singular to say, "about the eleventh hour he went out." What a heart this tells! What infinite goodness! that God, who recognizes every service and suffering done for Himself, yet keeps intact the prerogative of going out at the last moment to bring in souls, and occupy them with what might seem to be a little service! But He can give grace to do that little well. "About the eleventh hour he went out … and saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first" (vers. 6-8). "Beginning from the last." The last are always spoken of first in this parable. So the steward is told to begin from the last unto the first. And again, when the master of the vineyard has to speak himself, it is the same thing: "The last shall be first, and the first last." It is the sovereignty of grace in giving as He pleases; not alone in saving, but in rewarding in the time of glory; for this is what is spoken of.
Of course the last received their wages thankfully. But when the first heard about it, they began to think themselves entitled to more — they who had borne the burden and heat of the day. But the master reminds them that all was a settled thing before they entered on their work. In their selfishness, they forgot both the terms and the righteousness of him with whom they had to do. If, out of the liberality of his heart, he was pleased to give to the last even as to the first, what was that to them? God maintains His own rights. It is of greatest importance for our souls that we hold to the rights of God in everything. Persons will argue as to whether it is righteous for God to elect this person or that. But on the ground of righteousness all are lost, and for ever. Now, if God is pleased to use His mercy according to His wisdom, and for His glory, toward these poor lost ones, who is to dispute with Him? "Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?" God is entitled to act according to what is in His heart: and "Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?" Is He entitled to act from Himself? He cannot act from man on the grounds of righteousness.There is no foundation on which he can thus deal; it is entirely a question of His own good pleasure. And we must remember there is not a man that is lost but rejects the mercy of God, despises it, or uses it for his own selfish purposes in this world. The man that is saved is the only one that has a true sense of sin, that gives himself up as lost, and falls back upon God's mercy in Christ to save a lost sinner.
To the complainant, the goodman of the house answered, "Friend, I do thee no wrong. Didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way; I will give unto this last even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?" (vers. 13-15). There comes out the whole secret. Man, yea, a professing disciple, a labourer in His vineyard, may be disputing because he thinks himself entitled to more than another who, in his opinion, has done little as compared with himself. The question of being a child of God does not enter in this parable; and, as to service, one may be a true servant or a mere hireling.
I would just ask, Why in the last chapter it was, "Many that are first shall be last, and the last first," and here, "The last shall be first, and the first last?" In speaking about rewards, according to the work done, the failure of man is intimated; for indeed weakness soon shows itself — "The first shall be last." But in this new parable it is the sovereignty of God that never fails; consequently here, "The last shall be first and the first last." "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present evil world." There was a first, we may say, who became last — a labourer for the Lord, who had not given up Christianity, but grown tired of the path of unremitting service for Christ. If, instead of honour now, the thousands of those who are engaged in the service of Christ were to receive scorn and persecution, there would be no slight thinning of their ranks. But shame and suffering must be looked for by him who intelligently seeks to serve faithfully the Lord in this world. Demas may have been a believer; but the trial and reproach, the love of ease and other things all came strongly over his spirit, and he abandoned the service of the Lord. "All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's" is a similar principle.
And now the Lord is going up to Jerusalem, and prepares His disciples for still greater trouble. "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death, and shall deliver Him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify Him: and the third day He shall rise again" (vers. 18, 19). Even after this, so selfish is the heart of man, the mother of Zebedee's children comes to Him with her sons, who were among the apostles themselves; and, paying her worship to Him, she desires a certain thing of Him. "And He said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto Him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on the left, in Thy kingdom" (ver. 21). So perfect is the humiliation of Christ, such His self-abandonment (He, the only One who had perfect knowledge of, and right to everything by His personal glory), that He says, I have no place to give in My kingdom — it is not mine to give, save as My Father may desire. But I have something to give you now: it is suffering. Yes, suffering for and with Him is what Christ gives His servants now — a high privilege. When the apostle Paul was converted, he asked, "What wilt Thou have me to do?" The Lord tells him what great things he should suffer for His name's sake. The highest honour we can have here is suffering with and for Christ. This our Lord lets the mother of Zebedee's children know. "Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able" (ver. 22). He took in two different kinds of suffering: the cup, which is inward suffering; and the baptism, which expresses what we are immersed into outwardly. The two include every kind of trial, inward and outward. He is not here speaking about the cross in atonement, for there can be no fellowship in this. But there might be the cross in rejection, though not as atonement. There may be the sharing of what Christ suffered from man, but not of what He suffered from God. When He was suffering for sin on the cross, relationship is dropped, as He bows in infinite grace to the place of judgment. He is made sin. He realizes what it is to be forsaken of God, making Himself responsible for the sins of men. He says, therefore, in that terrible moment on the cross, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? In this we can have no part. God forsook Jesus that He might not forsake us. God never forsakes a Christian nor hides Himself from him.
When the Lord says, "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto Him, We are able." They did not know what they said, any more than what they asked. For, when our Lord was only in danger of death, we find that they all forsook Him and fled. As for one of them, if he did venture into the hall of judgment, it was merely, as it were, under the high priest's robe; that is, on the plea of being known to him. When Peter followed on his own ground, it was only to show his utter weakness. In presence of such a cup as this, and such a baptism, the Lord says, "Ye shall indeed drink of My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (not, ye are able): "but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of My Father" (ver. 23). I would just remark that the words which are put in italics (and inserted without warrant) mar the sense very much. Without them the sense is better. It was His to give to those only to whom the Father destined it. Christ is the administrator of the rewards of the kingdom. As He was the Servant in suffering, He also shall dispense the rewards and glories of the kingdom.
"And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren" (ver. 24). No doubt it seemed a very right thing to put down these two brethren who were so full of themselves. But why were they thus indignant? Their pride was wounded; they too were full of themselves. Christ was not filled with indignation — it was a sorrow to Him: but they were moved with hot feeling against the two brethren. We have to take care. Often where we seek to pull down those that seek to exalt themselves, there is self on our part too. Suppose one of us has fallen into sin. There is often a good deal of strong feeling about it: but is this the best way of showing our sense of sin? Those who feel most for God, feel also the deepest for those who have slipped away from Him. "If a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
"But Jesus called them unto Him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them; and they that are great exercise authority upon them" (ver. 25). He put His finger upon that very love of greatness in themselves. They were loud in condemning it in James and John; but their feeling betrayed the same thing in their own hearts. "It shall not be so among you," says the Lord, "but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant." There is a difference between the two words. The word translated "minister" means a servant. But in verse 27 it is a bondman or slave. Do you want to be really great according to the principles of My kingdom? Go down as low as you can. Do you want to be the greatest? Go down the lowest of all. Whoever has least of self is greatest in the Lord's eyes. For "the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many" (ver. 28). He took the lowest place of all, and gave His life a ransom for many. Blessed for ever be His name!
The last verses properly belong to the next chapter, which is the approach of our Lord to Jerusalem from the way of Jericho. And it is necessary to take the two chapters together, to have the proper connection of all that is given us here. But I cannot close this part of the subject without recalling attention to the principles of the kingdom of God as shown us by Christ Himself. What a call for self-renouncing service! What a joy to think that everything that now is a trial will be found as a joy in that kingdom! There are some who think they are favoured with few opportunities for serving the Lord — who are shut out from what their hearts would desire. Let us remember that He who knows everything has a right to give as He will to His own and of His own. He will do the very best according to His heart. Our one business now is to think of Him who came, not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. That is our prime call and need — to be Christ's servants in serving each other.
In the transfiguration we had a picture of the coming kingdom; Christ, the Head and Centre, with representatives of its heavenly and earthly aspects; on the one side, Moses and Elias glorified; and on the other, the three disciples in their natural bodies. This was a turning point in the history of our Lord's course, which John passes by, but it is given fully in the other three Gospels. The Cross, because of sin, is the foundation of all glory. There could be nothing stable or holy without it. It is the sole channel through which flows all our blessings; and Christ's decease, we know from Luke, was the theme on the holy mount. But John gives us nothing of that scene; because he is occupied with Christ as the Son. In John we have, not the human side, but the deity of the Lord Jesus: His rejection by Israel, and Israel's consequent rejection by God, are assumed from the beginning of that Gospel: as we read, "He came to His own, and His own received Him not." Now the transfiguration does not bring out the deity of Christ, but His glory as exalted Son of Man, owned withal as Son of God. This was a sample of the glory of the Lord in His future kingdom; with the types of some risen and heavenly, and of others in their natural or earthly state. But John does not show us the kingdom, but the Father's house. The world may in some measure, see the glory, as foreshown on the mount, but this is not our best portion. While we look for "that blessed hope" and the appearing of the glory, our hope is to be with Christ in the many-mansioned house of the Father — a hope which is far beyond any blessing of the kingdom. Neither will it be displayed. The secrets of love and communion of Christ with the Church are not for display before the world. Doubtless the glory and the place of power which the Church will possess in the coming kingdom will be displayed; for these form some of the chief features in the millennial reign. Thus the mount of transfiguration holds an important place in the three synoptic Gospels, as showing Christ in the capacity of Messiah, Servant, and Son of Man. As such, He will be displayed after the pattern in the mount, and accordingly, the three Evangelists, who present Christ in these three aspects, give us the transfiguration. The thought of present reception by the Jews, as we have seen, had been entirely given up, and the new thing coming in begins to be announced. Christ must suffer and die.
The end of our chapter, from Matthew 20:30, is a preface to Matthew 21, where we have the last formal presentation of the King — not with the thought of being received; but for the filling up of man's iniquity and the accomplishment of the counsels of God, He presents Himself as such. The Lord is on His way to Jerusalem, and two blind men cry unto Him, Have mercy on us, O Lord, Thou Son of David! If they knew nothing of the impending crisis, they notwithstanding were completely in the spirit of the scene. The Holy Ghost was acting upon them that they might bear testimony to Jesus, who was now for the last time to be publicly presented as Heir to the throne. What a picture! The seeing ones, in their blind hardness of heart, rejecting their own Messiah, though owned of Gentiles as the born King of the Jews; and the poor blind ones, through faith, loudly confessing Him the true King. Perhaps their principal, their one desire, may have been to be healed of their blindness. Be it so; but God, at any rate, gave to their faith the proper object and the just confession for that moment, for He was guiding the scene. Whatever was the thought of the blind men in crying after the Lord, God's design was that there should be a suited testimony rendered to His King, the "Son of David." A Jew would well understand all that was implied in the title. What a condemnation of Pharisees and scribes who had rejected Christ! The highest point of view is not always the most proper. The circumstances vary. Thus the confession of Christ as "Son of David" was more in keeping here than if they had said, "Thou Son of God." We have only to weigh the various titles to see that in hailing Him according to His Jewish glory, they uttered that which was in unison with what God was then doing.
Let me ask, reverently, Why should the resurrection of Lazarus be omitted in the first three Gospels? Man, if these accounts had been his work, would not have omitted it, surely. It would have been thought far too important to be left out under any consideration. The omission of so stupendous a miracle, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, points out clearly that it is the Spirit of God who wrought sovereignty and writes by each with a special purpose. If so, that which men call inconsistencies and imperfections, are really perfections in God's word. It was a part of the purpose of God to omit the miracle in some, for He only presents those facts which suit His design in each Gospel. This miracle of raising Lazarus does not show us Christ as the Messiah, or the Servant, or the Son of Man, but as the Son of God, who gives life and raises the dead — a grand point of doctrine in John 5 — therefore it is given in John's Gospel alone. There were other miracles of raising the dead in the other Gospels; but the truth of the Sonship and present glory of Jesus in communion with the Father is not in these others the prominent one. It is not, therefore, as Son of God that He appears in them. Take, for instance, the raising the widow's son at Nain. What are the circumstances brought into emphasis there? He was the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. Luke, or rather the Spirit, is careful to note this; for it is what gives point to the touching story. "He restored him to his mother." It is the Lord's human sympathy, the Lord as Son of Man, which is the object here. True, He must have been Son of God, or He could not have thus raised the dead. If the Godhead and relation to the Father, of Him who was made flesh, had been the only truth to show, the attendant circumstances need not have been narrated; the Gospel of John might have sufficed, as it does, to display eminently the Lord Jesus as the Son.
All this manifests the perfectness of the word of God. When the mind is subject to Him this is seen, and He teaches those who submit themselves and confide in Him. A blind man is healed in John 9, (not these near Jericho, who appeal to Jesus) but, as Jesus passed by, He saw a man blind from his birth. Rejected of men, Jesus was going about seeking for objects on whom to bestow His blessing; the Son who, unsought, saw the deep need, and dealt accordingly. It was an opportunity of working the works of God. He waits for nothing, goes to the man, and the work is done, though it was the sabbath-day. How could the Son of God rest in the presence of sin and wretchedness, whatever religious pride might feel? The Lord leaves him not until he can own Him "Son of God," and worship. Moreover, we may say, John never mentions a miracle simply for the display of power, but to attest the divine glory of Christ. In Matthew it is the rejected Messiah. Here (in chap. 20), being despised by the nation, God makes two blind men bear testimony to Him as Son of David; which, when thus owned by the nation, will bring in Israel's restoration with triumphant power.
The place (near Jericho) was accursed. But if Jesus has come as Messiah, although the Jews reject Him, He shows Himself to be Jehovah — not only Messiah under the law, but Jehovah above it; and so He blesses them even at Jericho, and they followed Him. This was the place that Israel should have taken: they ought to have known their King. The two blind men were a witness for Him, and against them. There was a competent testimony — "In the mouth of two witnesses," etc. Mark and Luke, whose object was not to bring out testimony valid according to the law, mention only one.
Jesus comes to the Mount of Olives. The Jews well knew what was prophesied concerning this mountain; they ought to have entered into the spirit of what the Lord was doing.
The sending for the colt shows the Lord as Jehovah, who has a perfect right to all. "The Lord (Jehovah) hath need of them."* What more thorough than His knowledge of circumstances in the womb of the future? How evident His control over the owner's mind and feeling! Meek as He was, sitting upon an ass, the King of Zion according to the prophet, He was indeed as surely Jehovah as Messiah coming in His name — the "need of them" as amazing as the glory of His person.
* Matthew alone mentions "an ass tied, and a colt with her," according to Zech. 9:9. "They brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments upon them, and He sat upon them" (vers. 2, 7). The three other Gospels mention the colt only. Here, in Matthew, the old Israel and the renewed nation are thus connected. The Lord's entry in Jerusalem is upon the "colt, the foal of an ass" — the new Israel will bring Him in with Hosannas! The dispensational view in Matthew is thus again set before us. The ass was, according to the law, "unclean"; but its foal might be redeemed. See Job 11:12; Ex. 13:13; Ex. 34:20, etc. Ed.
The Lord goes onward to Jerusalem. And the multitude cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" They apply Psalm 118 to Messiah, and they were right. They might be very unintelligent, and some perhaps may have joined later in the fearful cry, "His blood be upon us;" but here the Lord guides the scene. He comes to the city; but He is unknown: His own know Him not. They ask, "Who is this?" So little understanding had the multitude, that they answer, "This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee." But though they only see Jesus of Galilee, yet He shows Himself as King, and takes a place of authority and power. He enters into the temple, and overthrows the tables of the money-changers, etc. This may certainly be looked at as a miraculous incident; for it was astonishing that He whom they knew only as the prophet of Nazareth should so boldly enter their temple, and drive out all who were desecrating it. But they turn not upon Him. The power of the God of the temple was there, and they flee; their consciences doubtless echoing the Lord's words, that they had made His house a den of thieves. But here we see, not only the testimony of the crowd to the kingship of Jesus, but the response to it, as it were, in the act of Jesus. As if He had said, "You hail Me as King, and I will demonstrate that I am." Accordingly, He reigns, as it were, in righteousness, and cleanses the defiled temple. Into what a state had the Jews not fallen! "My house … the house of prayer … but ye have made it a den of thieves! "
There were two cleansings — one before our Lord's public ministry, and the other at its close. John records the first; Matthew the last.
In our Gospel it is an act of Messianic power, where He cleanses His own house, or, at least, acts for God, as His King. In John it is rather zeal for the injured honour of His Father's house — "Make not My Father's house a house of merchandise." A collateral reason, why John tells us of the first cleansing in the beginning of his Gospel, is that he assumes the rejection of Israel at once. Hence their rejection by Christ, set forth in this act, was the inevitable consequence of their rejection of Him: and this is the point from which John sets out when he begins with the ways of the Lord before His ministry.
But now the blind and the lame come to Him to be healed. "He healed their diseases and forgave their iniquities." Both these classes were the hated of David's soul — the effect of the taunt upon David (2 Sam. 5:6-8). How blessed the contrast in the Son of David! He turns out the selfish religionists from the temple, and receives there the poor, blind, and lame, and heals them — perfect righteousness and perfect grace.
On the one hand, there are the voices of the children crying, "Hosanna," etc. — the ascription of praise to Him as King, the Son of David; on the other, there is the Lord acting as King, and doing that which the Jews well knew had been prophesied of their King. He was there the confessed King; yet not by the chief priests and scribes, who took umbrage, wilfully and knowingly rejecting Him — "We will not have this man to reign over us." Naturally, therefore, they seek to stop the mouths of the children, and ask Jesus to rebuke them: "Hearest Thou what these say?" But the Lord sanctions their praises: "Have ye never heard, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise" (ver. 16). The power of Jehovah was there, and there was a mouth to own it, though only in babes and sucklings. So "He left them" — a significant and solemn act. They rejected Him, and He abandons them, turning His back upon the beloved city.
Returning to Jerusalem on the next day, the Lord is hungered, and seeks fruit from the fig-tree, but finds none. He then pronounces a curse upon it, and presently it withered away. The sentence on the fig-tree was an emblematic curse upon the people — Israel was the fig-tree. The Lord found nothing but leaves, and the word is that henceforth no fruit shall grow upon it for ever. The nation had failed in fruit to God, when they had every means and opportunity for glorifying and serving Him; and now all their advantages are taken away, and the old stock is given up — a dead tree.
Mark says that the time of figs was not yet. Many have been perplexed at this, as if the Lord sought figs at a time when there could be none. The meaning is, that the time for the gathering of figs was not come — the time of figs was not yet. There ought to have been a show of fruit, but there were only leaves — only outward profession. It was thoroughly barren. The disciples wondered; but the Lord says to them further, "If ye shall say to this mountain (symbolizing Israel's place among the nations, as exalted among them), Be thou cast into the sea," etc. This has been done. Not only is there no fruit borne for God, but Israel, as a nation, has been cast into the sea — as lost in the mass of people — trodden down and oppressed under the feet of the Gentiles.
The chief priests and the elders of Israel now come to attack the Lord: they demand of Him, "By what authority doest Thou these things?" — the driving out the traders from the temple precincts — "and who gave Thee this authority?" It was not given by them, indeed; and their eyes were closed as to His glory. Our Lord answers by asking what were their thoughts of John's baptism. He appeals neither to miracles nor prophecy, but to conscience. How evident had been the accomplishment of the ancient oracles in His person, in His life and in His ministry! How full the testimony of signs and wonders wrought by Him! Yet their question proved how vain all had been, as His question proved either their dishonesty or their blindness. In either case, who were they to judge? Little did they think that as they sought to canvass the Lord of glory, they were in truth but discovering their own distance and alienation from God. So, indeed, it ever is. Our judgment, or refusal to judge, of what concerns Christ is an unfailing gauge of our own condition. In this instance (vers. 23-27) the want of conscience was manifest — nowhere so fatal as in religious guides. "They reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; He will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people: for all hold John as a prophet." God was not in their thoughts; and thus all was false and wrong. And if God be not the object, self is the idol. These chief priests were at bottom but slaves of the people over whose faith, or superstition, they had dominion. "We fear the people." This at least was true. "And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell." To what a miserable subterfuge they are driven — blind guides by their own acknowledgment! To such the Lord declines to give any account of His authority. Again and again they had seen the works of His gracious power, and their question furnished the proof that an answer was useless. They would not see if they could.
But our Lord does more. In the parable of the two sons He convicts these religious leaders of being farther away from God than the most despised classes in the land. "Verily I say unto you, That the publicans and harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not," etc. (ver. 32.) Decent lip-homage forms — "I go, sir; and went not" — such was the religion of those who stood highest in the world's estimate of that day. Hypocrisy was there, to cover self-will and pride with the cloak of religiousness, which made them more obdurate than people who disgraced the decencies of society in riotous or otherwise disreputable ways. They were more accessible to the stirring appeals of John than these Pharisees. Deaf to the call of righteousness, they were hardened as well against the operations of God's grace, even where it was most conspicuous. "And ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him." Repentance awakens the sense of relationship to God as the one sinned against. The resolutions of nature begin and end in "I go, sir." The Spirit of God produces the deep conviction of sin against Him, with neither room for nor desire of excuse. But it is lost for worldly religion, which, resisting alike God's testimony and the evidence of conversion in others, sinks into increasing darkness and hostility to God. The judge of all therefore pronounces these proud, self-complacent men worse than those they scorned. They were no judges now — they were judged.
Again, the Lord bids them hear another parable, setting forth not merely their conduct toward God, but God's dealing with them, in a twofold form: first, in view of human responsibility as under law; and, secondly, in view of God's grace under the kingdom of heaven. The former is developed in the parable of the householder (vers. 33-41); the latter, in the king's marriage-feast for his son (Matt. 22:1-14). Let us look at the first.
"Hear another parable: There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a wine-press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country: and when the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it" (vers. 33, 34). It is a picture founded on and filling up the sketch of Isa. 5 — a picture of God's peculiar favours to Israel. "What could have been done more to My vineyard that I have not done in it?" He had brought them out of Egypt, and settled them in a goodly land, with every advantage afforded by His goodness and power. There was definite arrangement, abundant blessing, ample protection. Then He looked for fruit, reminding them of His rights by the prophets. "And the husbandmen took his servants, and beat one, and killed another, and stoned another" (ver. 35). There was full patience too. "Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did unto them likewise." Was there a single possibility that remained? a hope, however forlorn? "Last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son." Alas, it was but the crowning of their iniquity, and the occasion of bringing out their guilt and hopeless ruin! For "when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir: come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him" (vers. 37-39). They recognized the Messiah then, but only so as to provoke their malice and worldly lusts. "Let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance." It was not only lack of fruit, persistent refusal of all the just claims of God and robbing Him of every due return, but the fullest outbreak of rebellious hatred, when tested by the presence of the Son of God in their midst. Probation is over; the question of man's state and of God's efforts to get fruit from His vineyard is at an end. The death of the rejected Messiah has closed this book. Man — the Jew — ought to have made a becoming answer to God for the benefits so lavishly showered on him; but his answer was — the cross. It is too late to talk of what men should be. Tried by God under the most favourable circumstances, they betrayed and shed the innocent blood; they killed the Heir to seize on His inheritance. Hence judgment is now the only portion man under law has to expect. "When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen?" Seared as the poor Jews were, they could not but confess the sad truth, "He will miserably destroy those wicked men," etc. (ver. 41). The wickedness of the husbandmen failed to achieve its own selfish end, as surely as it had never rendered fruits meet for Him whose provident care left men without excuse. But the rights of the householder were intact; and if there was still "the lord of the vineyard," was He indifferent to the accumulated guilt of wronged servants and of His outraged Son? It could not be. He must, themselves being the witnesses, avenge the more summarily, because of His long patience and incomparable love so shamefully spurned and defied. Others would have the vineyard let to them, who should render Him the fruits in their seasons.
Thus the death of Christ is viewed in this parable, not as in the counsels of God, but as the climax of man's sin and the closing scene of his responsibility. Whether law or prophets or Christ sought fruit for God, all was vain, not because God's claim was not righteous, but because man — aye, favoured man, with every conceivable help — was hopelessly evil. In this aspect the rejection of the Messiah had the most solemn meaning; for it demonstrated, beyond appeal, that man, the Jew, had no love for God, by whom he had been blessed. It was not only that he was evil and unrighteous, but he could not endure perfect love and goodness in the person of Christ. Had there been a single particle of divine light or love in men's heart, they would have reverenced the Son; but now the full proof stood out, that the natural man is hopelessly bad; and that the presence of a divine Person, who came in love and goodness, a Man among men, gave only the final opportunity to strike the most malicious and insulting blow at God Himself. In a word, man was now shown and pronounced to be LOST. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth Me hateth My Father also. If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now they have both seen and hated both Me and My Father." Christ's death was the grand turning-point in the ways of God; the moral history of man, in the most important sense, terminates there.
"Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the Scriptures, The Stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?" (ver. 42). It was the conduct of those who took the lead in Israel, revealed in their own Scriptures. Marvellous doing on the Lord's part! — in manifest reversal of such as set themselves up, and were accepted, as acting in His name: yet to be marvellous in Israel's eyes, when the now hidden but exalted Saviour comes forth, the joy of a converted people, who shall then welcome and for ever bless their once-rejected King; for truly His mercy endures for ever. Meanwhile His lips utter the sentence of sure rejection from their high estate: "Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God [not of heaven, for this they had not] shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (ver. 43). Nor was this all: for "whosoever shall fall on this stone" (Himself in humiliation) "shall be broken; but on whomsoever it shall fall" (i.e., consequent on His exaltation), "it will grind him to powder" (ver. 44). Thus, He sets forth the ensuing stumbles of unbelief; and further, the positive execution of destructive judgment, whether individual or national, Jewish or Gentile, at His appearing in glory. (Compare Daniel 2.)
It is in all respects a notable scene, and the Lord, now drawing to the conclusion of His testimony, speaks with piercing decision. So that, spiritually impotent and dull as the chief priests and Pharisees might be, and couched as His words were in parables, the drift and aim were distinctly felt. And yet, whatever their murderous will, they could do nothing till His hour was come; for the people in a measure bowed to His word, and took Him for a prophet. He brought God in presence of their conscience, and their awe feebly answered to His words of coming woe.
We are not positively informed that the parable of the marriage feast was uttered at this time. It is introduced in so general a manner that one could well conceive it the same as that which Luke, with more definite marks of time, presents in the fourteenth chapter of his Gospel. However this may have been, nothing can exceed the beautiful propriety of its occurrence here, as the sequel to the latter part of the previous chapter. For, as the vineyard sets forth the Lord's righteous claim from Israel, on the ground of what He had entrusted to them, so the wedding sets forth the new thing, and hence is a comparison of "the kingdom of heaven" — not now fruit sought as a debt due to God from man, but God displaying the resources of His own glory and love in honour of His Son, and man is invited to share. We have nothing properly here of the Church or assembly, but the kingdom. Consequently, though the parable goes beyond the Jewish economy, so elaborately treated in the preceding portion, and Christ's own personal presence on earth, it does not take in corporate privilege, but individual conduct, as variously affected by God's astonishing mercy, and this in view of and flowing from the place of Christ as glorified on high. The characteristic point is that it is an exposition, not of Israel's ways toward the Lord, but of the King's ways who would magnify His Son; though here, as before, unbelief and rebellion never fail to meet their just recompense. It had been proved that God could not trust man: would man now trust God, and come at His word, and be a partaker of His delight in His Son?
It is manifest that here we are no longer on Old Testament ground with its solemn prophetic warnings. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding; and they would not come" (vers. 2, 3). Our Evangelist, true to the plan and design of the Holy Ghost, presents this striking picture after that of the Messiah's rejection. What would be the fresh intervention of God? and how received of man, especially of Israel? In Luke, I may mention by the way, the dispensational connection does not appear; but the Spirit gives rather a view of what God is to mankind generally, and even puts it as "a certain man" making a supper with unexampled generosity, not the "King" acting for the glory of "His Son." In both Gospels the parable represents, not righteous requirement as under the law, but the way in which grace goes out to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. He "sent forth His servants to call them that were bidden [Israel], but they would not come." The kingdom was not come, but announced, while the Lord was here below. "Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage" (ver. 4).
Mark the difference. On the first mission of the servants He did not say "All things are ready," but only on the second, when Christ meanwhile had died and risen, and the kingdom was actually established on His ascension. It is the Gospel of the kingdom after His work, as compared with the Gospel before it. The two messages are thus distinguished; the rejection of Christ and His death being the turning-point. Matthew alone gives us this striking difference; Luke at once begins, with equal propriety for his task, with "Come: for all things are now ready," dwelling, with details not found in Matthew, on the excuses made by the heart for despising the gospel.
The King was active, then, and His honour at stake in having a feast worthy of His Son. Not even the cross turned Him aside from His great purpose of having a people near Him and happy in honour of His Son. On the contrary, if grace works, as it does, the interrupted message is renewed with new and more urgent appeals to the invited; and now by other servants beyond the twelve and the seventy. So we have in the beginning of Acts (Acts 2 - 4) the special announcement to Israel as the children of the covenant — "To them that were bidden." The first sending out, then, was during the life of the Messiah to call the privileged people; afterwards, there was the second and specific testimony of grace to the same people when the work of redemption was done.
What was the effect? "They made light of it, and went their way, one to his farm, another to his merchandise." God was not in their thoughts, but a man's own field or his trade; and, alas, as God increases in the testimony of His grace, man grows bolder in his slight and opposition. "And the remnant took His servants and entreated them spitefully and slew them" (vers. 5, 6). This is what you find in measure in the Acts of the Apostles. The message is disregarded in the earlier chapters; in chapters 7 and 12, the servants are outraged and slain. The issue is then fore shown — judgment on the Jews and Jerusalem. "When the king heard thereof he was wroth; and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city" (ver. 7). Who does not see in this the fate of the Jewish nation and the destruction of their city? This is not found in Luke: how suitable to Matthew, I need not point out.
But God will have His house filled with guests; and if those peculiarly favoured would not come, and incurred wrath to the uttermost, divine grace will not be thwarted by human wilfulness — evil must be overcome of good. "Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready; but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage" (vers. 8, 9). Here is an indiscriminate call to every soul by the gospel. "So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all, as many as they found, both bad and good; and the wedding was furnished with guests" (ver. 10). The gospel goes out to men as they are, and wherever received produces, by grace, that which is according to God, instead of demanding it. Hence all are welcome, bad and good — a dying thief or a woman that was a sinner, a Lydia or a Cornelius. The question was not their character, but the feast for the King's Son; and to this they were freely called. Grace, far from asking, gives fitness to stand before Him in peace.
Yes, there is produced a necessary, indispensable fitness. A wedding garment is due to the wedding-feast. This the King, of His own magnificent bounty, provided, and it was for each guest to wear it: who that honoured the King and the occasion would not? The servants did not look for such garments outside: they were not worn on the highways, but within at the wedding. Nor was it the point for the guests to appear in their best. It was the King's affair to give. Come who might, there was enough and to spare; "all things were ready."
This is the great essential truth of the gospel. So far from looking for anything in man agreeable to God, the glad tidings come on His part on the express ground that all is ruined, wretched, guilty, on the sinner's part. "Let him that is athirst come; yea, whosoever will."
But where the heart is not right with God, it never submits to His righteousness; man, in this case, prefers to stand on his own foundation. Either he thinks he can raise a claim on God by being or doing something, or he ventures within, careless both of himself and God. Such was the man whom the king finds without the wedding-garment. It was despising the holiness as well as the grace of God, and proved that he was utterly a stranger to the feast. What did he think of, or care for, the feelings of the King bent upon the glorifying of His Son? For this is the true and real secret: God lavishes mercy on sinners for the sake of His Son. Opportunity is thus given to put honour on His name. Does my soul bow to it and Him? — it is salvation. The heart may go through much exercise, but the only key to His astonishing goodness to us is God's feeling toward His Son. If I may venture so to speak, the Lord Jesus has put the Father under obligation so to act. He has so lived and died to glorify God at all cost, that God (I say it reverently) is bound to show this grace, show what He is, on account of His Son. Hence that remarkable expression in Paul's epistles, "The righteousness of God." It is no longer man's righteousness sought by the law, but God righteous in justifying such as have faith in His Son, when man has been proved to have utterly and in every way failed. Because of the infinite value of the Cross, God loves to put honour on Christ; and if a soul but plead His name, it becomes a question of God's righteousness in justifying him freely, of His grace, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.
Strikingly is the truth shown by the King's dealing with the Christ-despising intruder! "And when the king came to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment" (ver. 11). This was the ground of immediate action. No question was started of what the man had been or done. The servants had been commissioned to bring in the bad as well as the good. "Such were some of you," says the apostle. Indeed, this man may have been the most correct, moral, and religious of the company, like the young ruler who left the Lord in sorrow. But, whether he were a degraded sinner or a self-righteous soul, one thing is certain — he had not on a wedding-garment. This at once arrested the King's eye. This man was setting at naught the King's grace — it was openly dishonouring His Son.
The wedding-garment is Christ. This guest therefore came before the King without Christ. He had not put on Christ! Whatever the pretence, it was all and only himself, not Christ, and that is everlasting ruin and condemnation to a sinner. Whereas, the very chief of sinners that accepts Christ as his sole confidence to stand before God, thereby justifies and exalts Him and His grace. It is as a man broken down in thoughts of himself, looking up and saying, I cannot trust what I have been nor even what I desire to be, but I can trust what Thou art to me in the gift of Thy Son. And such confidence in God produces deep loathing of self, real uprightness of soul, as well as true desire to do the will of God. But this man knew not, believed not, that nothing from earth suits the divine presence — only what is purchased by the precious blood of Jesus. He had no sense of the grace which invited him, nor of the holiness that befits the presence of God. The King accordingly says to him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment? And he was speechless" (ver. 12). He was in spirit and before God entirely outside the feast; else he would have felt the absolute need of an array in keeping with the King's joy and the Son's bridals. And judgment cast him out of that scene for which he had no heart — cast him out where the unbelieving, in hopeless wretchedness and self-reproach, must honour the Son. It is not merely governmental vengeance, such as that which providentially slew the murderers and fired their city, but final judgment on him who spurned grace by presuming to draw near to God without putting on Christ. "Then said the King to the servants (not the bondmen of verses 3, 4, etc.), Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into the outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Was this solemn sentence rare because one man only exemplifies it? Nay, verily; "for many are called, but few are chosen" (vers. 13, 14).
Thus terminated the double trial of the nation; first, on the ground of their responsibility as under the law, and next, as tested by the message of grace. The rest of the chapter judges in detail all the various classes in Israel who successively sought to judge and ensnare the Lord, bringing into relief their position, and winding up all with a question which they could not answer without understanding His position and withal His glorious Person.
"Then went the Pharisees and took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent out unto Him their disciples with the Herodians." What an alliance! The Pharisees (partisans of strict Judaism and the law) and the Herodians (the political time-servers of that day, whom the former hated cordially), join in flattering Jesus to ensnare Him by the question of Jewish title against the Gentile. Would He, the Messiah, gainsay the hopes and exalted privileges of Israel as a nation? If not, how escape the charge of treason against Caesar? Diabolical craft was there, but divine wisdom brings in the just balance of truth as to God and human authority, and the difficulty vanishes. It was the rebellion of the Jews against Jehovah which gave occasion to His subjecting them to their heathen lords. Were they humbled because of it, and seeking the resources of God's grace? Nay, but proud and boastful; and their conflicting parties at this very time uniting in deadly opposition to God, plotting against their own, and His, Messiah. "Tell us, therefore: what thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites? Show Me the tribute money" (vers. 17-19). They brought a denarius, and owned to Caesar's image and superscription upon it, and heard the sentence of Wisdom: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Had the Jews honoured Him, they had never been in bondage to Gentile dominion; but now, being so through their own sin and folly, they were bound to accept their humiliation. Neither Pharisee nor Herodian felt the sin; and if one felt the shame which the other gloried in, the Lord, while forcing them to face the real position to which their iniquity had reduced them, pointed out that which, if they heeded it, would be the speedy harbinger of a divine deliverance.
"The same day came to Him the Sadducees, which say that there is no resurrection, and asked Him, saying, Moses said," etc. (vers. 23-33). Thus unbelief is as false and dishonest as pretended human righteousness. If the Pharisees could be in league with Herodians and affect loyalty to Caesar so could the sceptic Sadducees plead Moses, as if the inspired word had plenary authority over their conscience! But the Lord, as He laid bare the hypocrisy of those who stood high as religionists, equally detected what the sceptic never suspects, that their difficulties flow not only from overlooking the power of God, but from downright ignorance — whatever maybe their self-conceit. "Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God." Faith, on the contrary, sees clearly, just as it counts on God according to the revelation of Himself in the Word.
The Lord not only shows their sophism to be sheer misapprehension of the resurrection-state, but proves (and that from Moses too, without going further) that the resurrection of the dead is an essential part of God's purpose and truth. An additional statement is given in Luke as to the intermediate living of the separate spirit. But in our Gospel the one point is that the dead rise, because God declared Himself to be the God of the fathers even after their death; and confessedly He is not the God of the dead (the extinct, as the Sadducees thought), but of the living. If He were their God in their state when He spoke to Moses, He must be the God of the dead, which the Sadducees had been the first to deny. It was the more important so to reveal Himself to Moses, through whom the system of the law was given, and to which the Sadducees pretended to adhere.
But if the Pharisees retired with wonder, they were far from subdued; and, indeed, they bestir themselves afresh when their sceptical rivals were put to silence. They assemble together; then a lawyer "tempts" Him, only to elicit a perfect summary of practical righteousness. They talked and tempted: Jesus was the expression of all the perfectness of law and prophets; and far, far more — the image of God Himself in grace as well as righteousness here below: not as Adam, who rebelled against God — not as Cain, who loved not his neighbour, but slew his brother (vers. 34-40).
And now it belonged to the Lord to ask them the question of questions, not only for a Pharisee, but for any soul: "What think ye of Christ? Whose son is He?" He was David's son — most true. But was this truth the whole truth? "How then does David in spirit call him Lord, saying, Jehovah said unto my Lord?" etc. How was He both David's Son and David's Lord? It was the key to all Scripture — the way, the truth, the life — the explanation of His position, the only hope for theirs. But they were dumb. They knew nothing, and could answer nothing. "Neither durst any man from that day forth ask Him any more questions."
They were all silenced, those who pretended to most light! Not believing in Christ, they were destitute of the only key to Scripture; and Psalm 110, bright as its testimony is to their own Messiah, was a thick cloud, not only to Egyptians now as of old, but to Israel. They saw not His glory, and were therefore hopelessly puzzled how to understand that David, speaking by the Spirit, should call his son his Lord.
In this chapter the Lord pronounces the doom of the nation, and most of all — not those whom man would chiefly denounce; not the openly lawless, licentious, or violent; nor the ease-loving, sceptical Sadducees, but — of those who stood highest in general esteem for their religious knowledge and sanctity. Conscience, man, the very world, can with more or less exactness judge of immoral grossness. God sees and eschews what looks fair to human eyes and is withal false and unholy. And the word of God is explicit that so it is to be. The heaviest woes yet in store for this world are not for heathen darkness, but, as for rebellious Judaism, so for corrupt Christendom, where most truth is known and the highest privileges conferred, but, alas, where their power is despised and denied. Not that, when God arises to judge, the pagan nations will go unpunished. They too shall drink of the cup. Yet, "Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Even so with professing Christendom: the fuller the light bestowed, the richer the grace of God revealed in the gospel, so much the graver reasons for unsparing judgments on hypocritical profession, when the knell of divine vengeance tolls for those "who know not God and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ." The Lord sees not as man seeth, whether in grace or in judgment; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. Thus did Jesus speak in the scene before us.
It is remarkable, however, that in the first instance He spoke "to the multitudes and to His disciples." They were yet to a great extent viewed together — this till the death and resurrection of Christ; and even then the Holy Ghost slowly breaks one old tie after another, and only utters His last word to the Jewish remnant (then Christian, of course) by more than one witness not long before the destruction of Jerusalem. But separation there was not, nor could be, till the cross.
It was, then, part of our Lord's Jewish mission to say that "the scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do" (vers. 2, 3). But there was the careful warning against making the scribes and Pharisees in anywise personal standards of good and evil. "Do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not." They were in themselves beacons, patterns of wrong, not of right (vers. 3-7). Still, not only were the disciples classed with the multitude, but in the very strongest denunciations of these religious guides they were bound as yet by the Lord to acknowledge those who sat in Moses' seat. There they were in fact, and the Lord maintains, instead of dissolving, the obligation to own them and whatever they set forth, not of their own traditions, but from the law. This was to honour God Himself, spite of the hypocrites who only sought man's honour for themselves, and it affords no warrant for false apostles or their self-deceived successors now. For the apostles had no seats like that of Moses; and Christianity is not a system of ordinance or formal observance like the law, but, where real, is the fruit of the Spirit through life in Christ, which is formed and fed by the word of God.
It has been urged, confidently enough of late, and in quarters where one might have hoped for better things, that as the saints in Old Testament times looked for Christ, and eternal life was theirs by faith, though they were under the law, so we who now believe in Christ are nevertheless, and in the same sense, under the law like them, though, like them, we are justified by faith. Plausible, and even fair, as this may seem to some, I have no hesitation in pronouncing it extremely evil. It is a deliberate putting souls back into the condition from which the work of Christ has extricated us. The Jews of old were placed under the law for the wise purpose of God, till the promised Seed came to work a complete deliverance; and the saints in their midst, though they rose above that position by faith, were all their lifetime subject to bondage and the spirit of fear. Christ has set us free, by the great grace of God, through His own death and resurrection; and we have thereon received the Spirit of sonship whereby we cry, Abba, Father. And yet, spite of the plainest testimony of God to the momentous change brought about by the coming of His Son, and the accomplishment of His work, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, it is openly, seriously proposed, as if it were part of the faith once delivered to the saints, that this wondrous working and display of divine grace should be set aside, with their results to the believer, and that the soul should be replaced under the old yoke and in the old condition! Doubtless this is precisely what Satan aims at, an effort to blot out all that is distinctive of Christianity by a return to Judaism. Only one maybe amazed to find so barefaced an avowal of the matter in men professing evangelical light.
The true answer, then, to such misunderstandings of Matthew 23 and the misapplications of similar portions of Holy Writ, is that as yet our Lord was adhering (and so He did to the last moment) to His proper Messianic mission; and this supposed and maintained the nation and the remnant under the law, and not in the delivering power of His resurrection. Which of the disciples could yet say, "Henceforth know we no man after the flesh: yea, though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we Him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to Himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation." Now, on the contrary, this is the normal language of the Christian. It is not a question of special attainment nor of extraordinary faith, but of simple present subjection to the full Christian testimony in the New Testament. Even were we Jews, the old tie is dissolved by death, and we are married to another, even to Christ raised from the dead. Thus to have the law as well as Christ for our guide and rule is like having two husbands at one time, and is a sort of spiritual adultery.
Surely also we can and ought to take the moral profit of our Lord's censure of the scribes and Pharisees: for what is the heart! We have to beware of imposing on others that which we are remiss to observe ourselves. We have to watch against doing works to be seen of men. We have to pray against the allowance of the world's spirit — the love of pre-eminence, both within and without (vers. 4-7). Hence the word is, "Be not ye called Rabbi; for One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no one your father upon the earth; for One is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters; for One is your Master, even Christ." The question here is not of the various gifts which the Lord confers by the Holy Ghost on His members in His body the Church, but of religions authority in the world and a certain status and respect by virtue of ecclesiastical office or position. But the great moral principle of the kingdom (which is always true) is enforced here: "He that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted" (vers. 8-12). The cross and the heavenly glory would but deepen the value and significance of these words of the Saviour; but even before either, and independently of the new order of things in the Church, they bore His stamp and were current for the kingdom.
In marked contrast with this pattern of true service for the disciples were the scribes and Pharisees, on whom the Lord next proceeds to pronounce eight solemn woes (vers. 13-33).* What else could He say of men who not only entered not the kingdom of heaven, but hindered those disposed to enter? What else could be due to those who sought religious influence over the weak and defenceless for gain? Granted that their proselyting zeal was untiring, what was the fruit in souls before God? Were not the taught, as usual, the truest index of such teachers, as being more simple and unreserved as to their ways and aim and spirit? Then the Lord lays bare their hair-splitting distinctions, which really made void the authority of God, insisting, as they did, on the pettiest exactions to the neglect of the plainest everlasting moral truths. Next is detected the effort after external look, whatever might be the impurity within; and this both in their labour and in their lives and persons, which were full of guile and self-will, crowned by affected great veneration for the prophets and the righteous who had suffered of old, and no longer acted on the conscience. This last gave them the more credit. There is no cheaper nor more successful means of gaining a religious reputation than this show of honour for the righteous who are dead and gone, especially if they connect themselves with them in appearance, as being of the same association. The succession seems natural, and it sounds hard to charge those who honour the dead saints in this day with the same rebellious spirit which persecuted and slew them in their own day. But the Lord would put them to a speedy and decisive test, and prove the real bent and spirit of the world's religion. "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar" (vers. 34, 35). It was morally the same race and character all through. In righteous judgment the Lord adds, "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation." Thus should be judged in the full measure what was begun by their fathers and completed by themselves. Hypocrites and serpents, how could such escape the judgment of hell?
*Verse 14 is generally omitted by the editor's as having no sufficient MSS. authority here, though found in Mark and Luke. The "woes" here pronounced upon the scribes and Pharisees therefore are seven, not eight. — [Ed.
But, how touching! Here is the Lord's lament over the guilty city — His own city: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (vers. 37, 38). His glory shines out more than ever; the rejected Messiah is in truth Jehovah. He would have gathered (and how often!) but they would not. It was no longer His house nor His Father's, but their's, and it is left unto them desolate. Nevertheless, if it be a most solemnly judicial word, there is hope in the end: "For I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me henceforth till ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord." Israel are yet to see their King, but not till a goodly remnant of them are converted to welcome Him in Jehovah's name.
In this prophecy of our Lord on which we are now to enter, we see a confirmation of a great principle of God: that He never opens out the future of judgments on the rebellious, and of deliverance for His own people, till sin has so developed itself as to manifest total ruin. Take the very first instances in the Bible. When was it said that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head? When the woman was beguiled, and man was in transgression through the wiles of the enemy; when sin had entered into the world, and death by sin. Again, the prophecy of Enoch, given us by Jude, was uttered when the term of God's patience with the then world was almost closed, and the flood was about to bear witness of His judgment on man's corruption and violence.
Thus, whether we look at the first prediction of Christ before the expulsion from Eden, or at the testimony of the Lord's coming to judge before the deluge, prophecy comes in when man has wholly broken down. So Noah, when failure in his own family, and in himself too, had come in, we see him led of the Holy Ghost into a prophetic summary of the whole world's history, beginning with the judgment of him who despised his father (even though it were to his own shame), and proceeding with the blessing of Shem and the portion of Japhet. So, later on, with the prophecies of Balaam and of Moses, "yea, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those that follow after;" for Samuel's is the striking epoch which the New Testament singles out as the commencement of the great line of the prophets. And why? It was the day when Israel openly abandoned God as their King, consummating the sin which their heart conceived in the desert, when they sought a captain in order to return into Egypt. It was a proud crisis in Israel, whose blessedness lay in being a people separated from all around by and to Jehovah their God, who would surely have provided them a king of His own choice, had they waited for Him, instead of choosing for themselves, to God's dishonour and their own degradation and sorrow, in order to be like the nations.
The same principle conspicuously applies to the time when the great prophetic books were written — Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest. It was when all present hope had fled, and David's sons wrought no deliverance, but rather through their towering iniquity and profane insults of God, He was at last morally forced to pronounce the nation Lo-ammi" — "not My people." Before, and during, and after the captivity, the Spirit of prophecy laid bare the sin of kings, and priests, and prophets (false ones), and people, but pointed to the coming Messiah and the new covenant. And Him we have seen in our Gospel actually come, but growingly and utterly rejected by Israel, and all their own promises and hopes in Him; and now in the near prospect of His own death at their hands, and by it their worst of deaths, the rejected Lord takes up this prophetic strain.
"And Jesus went out, and departed from the temple." For what was it now? A corpse, and no more. "Behold, your house is left unto you desolate."* "And His disciples came to Him for to show Him the buildings of the temple. And Jesus said unto them, See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down" (vers. 1, 2). The hearts of the disciples then, as too often now, were occupied with the present appearances, and the great show of grandeur in God's service; the halo of associations was bright before their eyes. But Jesus passes sentence on all that even they admired on earth. In truth, when He left the temple, all was gone which gave it value in the sight of God. Outside Jesus, what is there in this world but vain show or worse? And how does the Lord deliver His own from the power of tradition and every other source of attraction for the heart? He opens out the communications of His own mind, and casts the light of the future on the present. How often worldliness unjudged in a Christian's heart betrays itself by want of relish for God's unfolding of what He is going to do! How can I enjoy the coming of the Lord if it is to throw down much that I am seeking to build up in the world? A man, for instance, may be trying to gain or keep a status by his ability, and hoping that his sons may outstrip himself by the superior advantages they enjoy. On some such idea is founded all human greatness; it is "the world," in fact. Christ's coming again is a truth which demolishes the whole fabric; because, if we really look for His coming as that which may be from day to day — if we realize that we are set like servants at the door with the handle in hand, waiting for Him to knock (we know not how soon), and desiring to open to Him immediately ("Blessed are those servants!") — if such is our attitude, how can we have time or heart for that which occupies the busy Christ-forgetting world? Moreover, we are not of the world, even as Christ is not; and as for means and agents to carry on its plans, the world will never be in lack of men to do its work. But we have a higher business, and it is beneath us to seek the honours of the world that rejects our Lord. Let our outward position be ever so menial or trying, what so glorious as in it to serve our Lord Christ? And He is coming.
*The Lord of the temple was rejected; the house of Israel was given up; the Glory was returning to heaven. (Compare Ezek. 10:2-4, 18-19, and Ezek. 11:22-23.) When the judgments upon Israel have turned them back to the Lord, the Glory returns the same way it had departed. Compare Ezek. 43:1-4, and Zech. 14:1-9. [Ed.
In the cross we see God humbling Himself — the only One of all greatness stooping low to save my soul — the only One who commands all, becoming the Servant of all. A person cannot receive the truth of the Cross without having in measure his walk in accord with the spirit of it. Yet how much saints of God regard the cross, not so much as that by which the world is crucified unto them and they unto the world, but rather as the remedy by which they are set free from fear, to make themselves a comfortable place in the world! The Christian ought to be the happiest of men; but his happiness should consist in what he knows is his portion in and with Christ. Meanwhile, our service and obedience are to be formed according to the spirit of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. Man's evil and God's grace thoroughly came out in the cross; all met there: and upon this great truth is founded what is said often in Scripture, "The end of all things is at hand;" because all has been brought out in moral ways and in dispensational dealings between God and man.
The Lord takes up the disciples where they were. They were believing godly Jews. Their associations connected Christ and the temple together. They knew that He was the Messiah of Israel, and they expected Him to judge the Romans and gather all the scattered ones of the seed of Abraham from the four winds of heaven. They looked for all the prophecies about the land and the city to be accomplished. There was no thought in the minds of the disciples at this time of Jesus going to heaven and staying there for a long time, nor of the scattering of Israel, and the Gentiles being brought in to the knowledge of Christ. Consequently this great prophecy on the mount of Olives starts with the disciples and with their condition. Their hearts were too much occupied with the buildings of the temple. But the Lord, now rejected, announces that "there shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down." This excited greatly the desire of the disciples to understand how such things were to come to pass. They were aware from the prophecies that there was a time of dismal sorrow for Israel, and they did not know how to put this together with their predicted blessing. They ask Him, therefore, "When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming and the end of the world (age)?" (vers. 2, 3).
"Thy coming" means "the Lord's presence with them on earth;" and "the end of the age" is a totally different word from that translated "world" elsewhere, it means here the end of the time during which our Lord should be absent from them. They wished to know the sign of His presence with them. They knew there could never be such desolation if their Messiah was reigning over them. They wished to know when the time of sorrow should come, and what should be the sign of His own presence that should close it and bring in unending joy.
"And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (vers. 4, 5). In the Epistles it is never exactly such a thought as warning persons against false Christs, for the Epistles are addressed to Christians; and a Christian could not be deceived by a man's pretensions to be Christ. It is most appropriate here, because the disciples are viewed in this chapter, not as the representatives of us Christians now, but of future godly Jews. We, as Christians, have nothing to do with the destruction of the temple; it does not affect us in any way. These disciples were, as the godly remnant of the nation, looking for the Messiah to bring in glory. The Lord, therefore, warns them that if any should arise among them, saying, I am Christ, they were not to believe them. The time was come when the true Messiah ought to appear. And He had appeared, but Israel had rejected Him, hardening themselves in the lie that our Lord could not be the promised One. But Israel had not given up the hope of the Messiah yet, and this exposes them to the delusion spoken of here (i.e., to persons saying, I am Christ). At any rate, the rejection of the true Christ lays them open to the reception of a false Christ. Our Lord had warned them of this. "I am come in My Father's name, and ye receive Me not. If another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive." If a messiah were to come full of self and Satan, the nation should be given up to receive the false, as a just retribution for having rejected the True. The disciples were the representatives of godly Jews, and were warned of what should befall their nation. But take the epistle of John and what have you there? "Beloved, believe not every spirit." Why? Because the great thing that the Church is distinguished by is the presence of the Holy Ghost; and the deceit which we have to watch against is false spirits, not false Christs, though there are many antichrists. The danger of Christians is grieving the Holy Ghost — nay, listening to false spirits. "Believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world." There are false prophets now, and evil spirits work in them. In these days, faith both in the Holy Ghost and in Satan's power is very much weakened. People only look at the man; whereas Scripture makes a great deal of God and of Satan. What gives Satan power over a professor of the name of Christ is the allowance of sin. Satan has not one atom of power against a child of God who is looking to Jesus; but where self is allowed, it is an opportunity for Satan to come in.
Here it is a question of false Christs, because our Lord was speaking to the disciples about Jewish circumstances and hopes, though He afterwards turns to Christian subjects. The prophecy consists of three great parts. The Jewish remnant have their history thoroughly described; then comes the portion of Christians, and afterwards that of the Gentiles. The prophecy divides itself into these three sections. The Jews are first brought forward, because the disciples were not yet taken out of their Jewish position: only when Christ was crucified was the wall of partition broken down. Our Lord's intention was to take up a Jewish remnant and show that there would be a company in the latter day on the same ground as these disciples — the Christian would come in between. This we have described in the latter part of the chapter, and in the greater part of Matthew 25. Then we have the Gentiles, "all nations," gathered before the Son of Man. Such is the thread of connection between the parts of this great discourse.
"Many shall come in My name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet" (vers. 5, 6). Observe, there are two great moral warnings given by our Lord. First, they were to beware of a true hope falsely applied. False Christs would take advantage of the fact that the Jews ought to be looking for Christ, and they would pretend to be Christ. Secondly, they might be terrified by the enemy who knows how to use such circumstances. Verse 6, therefore, guards them against alarms: "Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars." Clearly this is not for the Christian, for where does the Holy Ghost warn the Christian about trouble from wars and rumours of wars? We find nothing about it in the Epistles, where the Christian Church is properly brought out! Is this denying the importance of the Lord's warning? God forbid!
But the portion we are looking at does not refer to Christians, but to the Jewish disciples as they then were, and as they will be. Our calling takes place after our Lord went to heaven and before He returns in glory, whereas the Jewish remnant will be found in the latter day on similar ground and with hopes like those the disciples had whom our Lord was here addressing. If we want to put things rightly together in the word of God, we must notice what and to whom He speaks. If I, a Gentile, take up the language of a Jew, a great mistake is made; or if a Christian adopt the language of either Jew or Gentile, there is again an equal mistake. Therefore it is that such stress is laid on "rightly dividing the word of truth." We find various ways of God according to His sovereign will about those with whom He is dealing, and we must take care to apply His word aright. The disciples, as the Jewish remnant, having a peculiar calling in a particular land, the land of Judea, if they heard of wars and rumours of wars, they were not to be troubled: "For all these things must come to pass; but the end is not yet." Do we ever find the apostles saying, The end is not yet, for us? On the contrary, it is said of us (1 Cor. 10), "Upon whom the ends of the world are come;" whereas, the Lord in addressing the Jewish remnant, says, "the end is not yet" — because many things must yet be accomplished before the Jews can come into their blessing. But for Christians, all things even now are ours in Christ; the blessing is never put off, though we await the crown at His coming.
Practically, too, the difference is immensely important; for the Christian is not of the world, even as Christ is not, which could not be equally said of the Jewish body to be called in the latter day. For us "wars and rumours of wars" ought not to be a source of trouble, though surely they should be an occasion of holy concern and intercession in the spirit of grace, and this for all engaged. The Jewish remnant, on the contrary, will not be separated after this heavenly manner; and the earthly struggles which will then rage in and around the land cannot but affect them greatly: so that they will need especially to cherish confidence in the Saviour's words, and not be troubled as if the issue were a doubtful one, or themselves forgotten in that dark day. They must wait patiently; "for nation shall rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows." It is evident that the language is only applicable in its full force to Jews — believing ones, no doubt, but still Jews in the midst of a nation judicially chastised for their apostasy from God and the rejection of their own Messiah.
The Lord therefore prepares the Jewish disciples or remnant for their special trials, partially true after His own departure till Jerusalem's destruction, and to be more fully verified before Jerusalem is again owned, after the destruction of the Antichrist. "Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you; and ye shall be hated of all nations [or the Gentiles] for My name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another" (vers. 9, 10). There should be false profession and hatred of the true, even among themselves — not only troubles without: "And many false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold; but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." Thus there is a certain defined period of endurance — an end to come as truly as there was a beginning of sorrows. But what trial, and darkness, and suffering, and scandal before that end comes! When our Lord, in the Gospel of John, speaks of the Christian's lot, He never names either a beginning or an end, but rather implies that tribulation should be expected throughout his career: "In the world ye shall have tribulation." And such is the constant language and thought in the Epistles, where beyond question our calling is in view.
Then follows a final sign. "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come" (ver. 14). The gospel of God's grace is not the same as the gospel of the kingdom. Both should be preached — that God is saving souls of His mere favour now through Christ; and that there is a kingdom which He is going to establish by His power shortly, which is to embrace all the earth. Before the end come, there will therefore be a special testimony of this coming of the Lord, as He here intimates. So in Revelation 14 an angel is seen by John in the prophetic vision, having the everlasting gospel to preach to the dwellers on earth and to every nation, and "saying with a loud voice, Fear God and give glory to Him; for the hour of His judgment is come; and worship Him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters." Now it cannot be said that the hour of His judgments is come; for it is, on the contrary and expressly, the day of His grace and salvation. Clearly, therefore, the inference is that, just before the close of this age, there will be a remarkable energy of the Spirit in the midst of the Jews; and from that very people who rejected Jesus of old, messengers of the kingdom shall go forth, touched by His grace, to announce the speedy fall of divine judgment and the establishment of the kingdom of the heavens in power and glory. Who, in God's mercy, so suited to proclaim the returning Messiah as some out of the very nation who of old had nailed Him to the cross — to proclaim Him now among all the proud Gentiles whose then representative had inscribed over His cross, "This is Jesus the King of the Jews"? The testimony shall go forth universally, then. How humbling for Christendom! with popery, with Mohammedanism, and paganism too, still prevalent over Asia and Africa — the great bulk of mankind. And yet Christian men close their eyes to the plainest and most solemn facts, and boast of the triumphs of the gospel! No: the Gentiles have been wise in their own conceits, though sovereign grace has wrought, spite of all; but it is reserved for other witnesses, when the "falling away" shall have been complete in Christendom and the man of sin revealed, to proclaim the coming kingdom in all the habitable earth.
In verse 15 the Lord shows us, not general tokens of the approaching end, or what should distinguish the end in general from the earlier throes of Israel, but points to circumstances of the most definite character, which may be applied perhaps partially to what occurred before the fall of Jerusalem under Titus, but which can only be fulfilled in the future of Israel if we duly heed the peculiarity of the scene, the connection of the prophecy, and, above all, the consummation in which all is to terminate.
First, then, our Lord points to a Jewish prophet. "When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (whoso readeth, let him understand,)" etc. The parenthesis warns that the prediction might be misunderstood — at any rate, demanded attention. Two passages of the prophecy (Dan. 11:31 and Dan. 12:11) speak of this abomination; but I have no hesitation in saying that the former was a foreshadowing of the doings of Antiochus Epiphanes centuries before Christ, and that the latter is the one referred to here, and still unaccomplished. Entirely distinct from the epoch of Antiochus, Dan. 12 speaks of another idol which brings desolation in its train, and this expressly "at the time of the end." "Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand." In this we have another link of connection with our Lord's words — "whoso readeth, let him understand." "And from the time that the daily [sacrifice] shall be taken away and the abomination that maketh desolate set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days." Thus, besides the idolatrous evil imposed by the notorious king of the north, Antiochus, long before the Lord appeared, Daniel looks onward to a similar evil at the close of Israel's sorrows, the destruction of which immediately precedes their final deliverance. "Blessed is he that waiteth." As to this last, our Lord cites the Jewish prophet, and casts further light on the selfsame time and circumstances.
The conclusion is clear and certain: in verse 15 of Matthew 24 our Lord alludes to that part of Daniel which is yet future, not to what was history when He spoke this on the mount of Olives. I am aware that some have confounded the matter with what we read in Dan. 8 and 9. But "the transgression of desolation" is not the same as "the abomination of desolation"; nor can we absolutely identify "the last end of the indignation" with "the time of the end." (Compare Isa. 10.) The distinctions of Scripture are as much to be noted as the points of resemblance and of contact. The last verse of Dan. 9 might seem to have stronger claims. There we have a covenant confirmed for one week; and then, in the midst of the week, sacrifice and oblation are made to cease; after which, because of the protection given to abominations, or idols, there is a desolator "even until the consummation and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate" (i.e., Jerusalem). I have thus given what I conceive to be the true sense of this important passage, because, when it is stated with precision, the supposed resemblance to "the abomination of desolation" disappears. A desolator who comes because of the wing (i.e., protection) of abominations is very distinct from the abomination that makes desolate, or the idol which is yet to stand in the sanctuary. With the setting up of this abomination the date of one thousand two hundred and ninety days is connected. Even for those who interpret this as so many years, it is impossible to apply the prophecy to the destruction of Jerusalem or its temple by the Romans. Had it been so, the period of blessing must long ere this have arrived for Israel. Has the prophecy then failed? No; but the readers have failed in understanding it. We must correct, not the language of Scripture, but our interpretations: we must go back to God's word again and again, and see whether we have not mistaken our bearings.
The truth is that the understanding of Dan. 12 is of all moment for reaping due profit from Matt. 24. In its first verse we have a plain landmark: "At that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people." There can be no just doubt that Daniel's people means the Jews, and that a mighty intervention on their behalf is intimated; but, as usual, not without the severest trial of faith. For "there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time." This our Lord has unquestionably in view in verse 21: "Then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be." There cannot be two tribulations for the same people, each of which is greatest: both statements refer to the same trouble. Now Daniel is positive that "at that time thy people (the Jews) shall be delivered." Who can pretend that Michael stood up for Israel against Titus any more than against Nebuchadnezzar? Does not everybody know that at that time, far from being delivered, they were completely vanquished by the Romans, and that those who escaped the sword were sold as slaves and scattered over the world? God was then against, not for, Israel; and, as the King in the parable, He was wroth, sent forth His armies, destroyed those murderers, and fired their city. Here, on the contrary, the unequalled hour of sorrow is just before their deliverance on God's part, not before their captivity.
Carrying this back to our chapter, the sight of the desolating idol in the holy place is the signal for flight. "Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains" (ver. 16). There is no thought of a sign to Christians as such, but to Jewish disciples in the holy land; and this that they may instantly retire from the scene of danger. "Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take anything out of his house: neither let him which is in the field return back to take his clothes. And woe unto them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days!" (vers. 17-19.) It has been tried to find in this the warning on which some fled to Pella in the interval after the Roman lieutenant surrounded the city, and before the final sack under the victorious commander. But this arises from confounding Luke 21:20-24 with Matt. 24:15-21; whereas they are demonstrably distinct, spite of a measure of analogy between them. It perfectly fell within the province given of the Spirit to the great Gentile Evangelist to notice the past Roman siege, as well as the present supremacy of the nations which tread down Jerusalem till their times are fulfilled. Matthew, however, had his own proper task in giving the grand future crisis, at least from verse 15. And it is evident that as the abomination in the holy place differs widely from armies compassing Jerusalem, so there was ample space for the most leisurely departure from the menaced city (yes, for the most impeded and infirm of either sex to go) after Cestius Gallus withdrew. I conclude, therefore, that by Matthew our Lord gives us what bears on the time of the end; by Luke, what refers to the past, and the present too, cursorily, as well as the future. Matthew, for instance, could not speak, like Luke, of Jerusalem being trodden down of the Gentiles, because he is here occupied only with the horrors which immediately precede Israel's blessing and deliverance. Luke has both an earlier and a later time of trouble: Matthew, from verse 15, confines himself to this latter time.
"But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: for then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (vers. 20, 21). How considerate the Lord is! And how surely His disciples in that day may count on His care, that their petitions will be answered, so that, urgent as their flight must be, neither the inclement season nor the day of Jewish rest shall hinder! Here again is another proof that not Christians, but His Jewish followers, are here contemplated. Holy as is the Sabbath, I have no hesitation in saying that the Lord's day, with which the Church has to do, is founded on a deeper sanctity. The believer has now to beware, on the one hand of confounding the Sabbath with the Lord's day, and on the other of supposing that, because the Lord's day is not the Sabbath, it may therefore be turned to a selfish or worldly account. The Sabbath is the holy memorial of creation and of the law, as the Lord's day is of grace and of the new creation in the resurrection of the Saviour. As Christians we are neither of the old creation nor under the law, but stand on the totally different ground of Christ dead and risen. The Sabbath was for man and the Jew — the last day of the week, and one simply of rest, to be shared with the ox and the ass. This is not the Christian idea, which begins the week with the Lord, gives the best to Him in worship, and is free to labour for Him to all lengths in the midst of the world's sin and misery.
Thus we have at every step a fresh testimony to the real bearing of the prophecy. For us the holy place is in heaven, not in Jerusalem; for us it is no question of escaping some unexampled tribulation, but of being prepared for suffering with and for Christ, and rejoicing in it always; for us, gathered out of all nations and tongues, the mountains round Judea are no suited hiding-place; nor could the winter or the Sabbath day be a just source of alarm. Every word is for us to ponder and profit by; but the evidence unmistakably points to a converted body of Jews in the latter day, not standing in Church light and privilege, but having Jewish hopes; and while awaiting the Messiah, warned how to escape the deceits and overwhelming trouble of that day. It is a question of flesh being saved (ver. 22), and not of fellowship with Christ's sufferings and conformity to His death, so as, whatever the cost, to have part in the resurrection from among the dead. Hence, too, there is no thought here of Christ's coming to receive us to Himself and to give us mansions where He is in the Father's house, but of His appearing in glory to destroy enemies, to judge what was dead and offensive to God, and to deliver the scattered elect of Israel. For their sake, those days of terror should be shortened. With this agree the warnings in verses 23-28: "Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders," etc. (vers. 23, 24.) Could such a delusion be addressed even to the simplest Christian who waits for the Son of God from heaven? Yet it is very intelligible if we think of these future Jewish disciples, who might expect something akin from a prediction such as Zech. 14, where we find that the mount of Olives is the appointed spot on which Jehovah-Messiah is yet to stand. We can well conceive rumours for such saints that Messiah was in the desert or in the secret chambers: they might deceive those who expected to meet the Lord on earth, not those who know that they are to join Him and the risen ones in the air (1 Thess. 4; 2 Thess. 2).
The manner of His presence for delivering the Jews is then made known as the guard against their deceits: "For as the lightning cometh," etc. The figures (vers. 27, 28), which illustrate the presence of the Son of Man, convey the thought of sudden, terrible manifestation, and of rapid, inevitable judgment on what is then but a lifeless body before God, whatever may have been its pretensions. Nothing like this is spoken of, however, when Scripture describes the descent of the Lord to receive His risen saints. And what is the result of thus misapplying these verses? The revolting interpretation that "the carcass" means Christ, and "the eagles" the transfigured saints, or the converse, calls for censure, not comment. Nor is it needful to refute the claim set up for the Roman standards. Applied to Israel, all is simple. The carcass represents the apostate part of that nation; the eagles, or vultures, are the figure of the judgments that fall upon it. It is not only that there will be the lightning-like display of Christ in judgment, but the agents of His wrath shall know where and how to deal with that which is abominable in God's sight. The allusion is to Job 39:30.
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened," etc. (vers. 29-31). I can hardly be asked to notice the old effort to apply these verses to the Roman triumph over Jerusalem. On the face of it, could this be said to be "immediately after the tribulation?" or was it not rather the crowning of Jewish sorrow? — not the glorious reversal of their sufferings by a divine deliverance. Whatever prodigies Josephus reports, were rather during the tribulation he records; whereas the signs spoken of here, literal or figurative, are to follow "the tribulation of those days" (i.e., the future crisis of Jerusalem). No; One greater than Titus is here; and an event is announced in connection with that poor people, which will change the face and condition of all nations. "Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He shall send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet; and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." The elect throughout are the chosen seed of Israel (vers. 22, 24, 31. Compare Isaiah 65.) Other elect there are, no doubt; but we, must ever interpret by the context; and this in the present case seems perfectly evident. The Son of Man in heaven, and seen there, is, I conceive, the sign to those on earth. This fills all the tribes with mourning; and Christ visibly comes to judgment. Other scriptures show that the heavenly saints have been already translated, and are then to accompany their Lord; but here nothing of this appears. It would have been premature. Besides, the object of this portion of the prophecy is to show His coming for the relief and ingathering of His elect out of Israel. Hence, it is as Son of Man (that is, judicially, see John 5:27) that He is present; and hence, too, He sends His angels with loud trumpet-sound. "And it shall come to pass in that day, that the great trumpet shall be blown, and they shall come which were ready to perish in the land of Assyria, and the outcasts in the land of Egypt, and shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem" (Isaiah 27:13). It is the proclamation, not alone of the acceptable year of the Lord, but of the day of God's vengeance. "And ye shall be gathered one by one, O ye children of Israel." The four winds in connection with Israel are no difficulty, but rather the contrary. (See Zech. 2:6.) As the Lord had scattered and spread them abroad "as the four winds of the heaven," so now are His chosen ones to be gathered in.
The general outline and the special view of the Jewish portion have been given thus far in chapter 24. This is next illustrated, both from nature (vers. 32, 33), and from Scripture (vers. 34, 35), and closed by a suitable application (vers. 42-44).
"From the fig-tree learn the [or, its] parable" (ver. 32). The fig-tree is the well-known symbol of Jewish nationality. We saw it, in Matthew 21, bearing nothing but leaves — that generation given up to the curse of perpetual fruitlessness, whatever grace may do for the generation to come. In Luke 21 the word is, "Behold the fig-tree and all the trees," because the Holy Ghost all through, and notably in that chapter, introduces the Gentiles. Luke takes in a larger scope than Matthew, and expressly treats of Jerusalem's sorrows in connection with "the times of the Gentiles." Hence the difference even in the illustrative figures. Here it is the tree, with renewed signs of life — Jewish nationality revived: "When its branch has now become tender and the leaves are shooting, ye know that summer is nigh; so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is nigh by the doors" (i.e., the end of this age, and the beginning of the next under Messiah and the new covenant). But solemnly the Saviour warns that "this generation," this Christ-rejecting race in Israel, shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled!
The notion that all was fulfilled in the past siege of Jerusalem, founded on a narrow and unscriptural sense of this passage, is from not hearing what the Lord says to the disciples. By the term "generation" in a genealogy (as Matt. 1), or where the context requires it (as Luke 1:50), a life-time no doubt is meant: but where is it so used in the prophetic Scriptures — the Psalms, etc.? The meaning herein is moral rather than chronological; as, for instance, in Psalm 12:7, "Thou shalt keep them, O Lord; Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." The words "for ever" prove a prolonged force; and accordingly the passage intimates that Jehovah shall preserve the godly from their lawless oppressors, "from this generation for ever." It is a distinct and conclusive refutation of those who would limit the phrase to the short epoch of a man's lifetime. So, in Deuteronomy 32:5, 20, we find generation similarly used, not to convey a period, but to express the moral characteristics of Israel. Again, in the Psalms we have "the generation to come," which is not confined to a mere term of thirty or a hundred years. So also in Prov. 30:11-14: "There is a generation that curseth their father… There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes," etc., where the character of certain classes is considered; even plainer, if possible, is the usage in the synoptic Gospels. Thus, in Matthew 11:16, "Whereunto shall I liken this generation?" means such as then lived, characterized by the moral capriciousness which set them in opposition to God's testimony, whatever it might be, in righteousness or in grace. But evidently, though people then alive are primarily in view, the moral identity of the same features might extend indefinitely, and so from age to age it would still be "this generation." Compare Matthew 12:39, 41-42, 45, which last verse shows the unity of the "generation" in its final judgment (not yet exhausted) with that which emerged from the Babylonish captivity. Again, note chapter 23:36, "Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation" — a generation which would continue till all the predictions of judgment that Christ uttered shall be fulfilled (chap. 24:34). As it is plain from what has been already shown, that much remains to be accomplished, "this generation" still subsists, and will, till all is over. And how true it is! Here are the Jews — the wonder of every thoughtful mind — not merely a broken, scattered, and withal perpetuated race; not only distinct, spite of mighty effort from without to blot them out, and from within to amalgamate with others, but with the same unbelief, rejection and scorn of Jesus their Messiah as on the day He pronounced their sentence. All these things — speaking of their earlier and their latest sorrows — should come to pass before that wicked generation shall disappear. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." That which incredulity counts most stable, the scene of its idolatry or of its self-exaltation, shall vanish; but the words of Christ, let them be about Israel or others, shall abide for ever.
But if all be thus sure and unfailing, the Father alone knows the day and hour (ver. 36). Ample and distinct signs the Saviour had announced already, and the wise shall understand; "but the wicked shall do wickedly, and none of the wicked shall understand." "But as the days of Noah, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days that were before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and knew not till the flood came and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of Man be" (vers. 37-39). Here is another testimony that our Lord in this position speaks of the Jewish disciples of the latter day (represented by those who then surrounded Him), and not of the Church. For His illustration is taken from the preservation of Noah and his house through the waters of the deluge; whereas the Holy Ghost, through Paul, illustrates our hope according to the pattern of Enoch, caught up to heaven, entirely apart from the scenes and circumstances of judgment here below.
Moreover, when the Son of Man thus comes in judgment upon living men here below, it will not be, as when the Romans or others took Jerusalem, indiscriminate slaughter or captivity; but whether in the open country or the duties of home, whether men or women, there will be righteous discernment of individuals. "Then shall two be in the field, the one is taken and the other left; two women grinding at the mill, the one is taken and the other left" (vers. 40, 41). The meaning clearly is that one is taken away judicially, and the other left to enjoy the blessings of Christ's reign, who shall judge God's people with righteousness and His poor with judgment. It is the converse of our change, when the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we, the living who remain, shall be caught up together to meet the Lord in the air; for those who are left, in our case, are left to be punished with everlasting destruction from His presence. But the Lord will also have an earthly people. He waits till the heavenly saints are gathered to Him above, and then begins to sow, if I may thus speak, for earthly blessing, in which case His coming as Son of Man will be for the removal of the wicked, leaving the righteous undisturbed in peace. "There shall be a handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon; and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth. His name shall endure for ever: His name shall continue as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in Him: all nations shall call Him blessed. — Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things. And blessed be His glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen" (Ps. 72:16-19).
"Watch therefore, for ye know not at what hour (or day*) your Lord is coming." The dealings with Israel, ending with the rescue of the just in their midst, involve the judgment of the self-secure and unconscious world. Accordingly, in these transitional verses (42-44) we have an allusion to a wider sphere than the Jews or their land, in which the godly remnant would be found — protected, but still there. God would know how to deliver the godly out of temptation. There they are, however, surrounded by snares and foes, but preserved: a totally different position from ours, who will previously be taken above, in the sovereign grace and wisdom of our Saviour. "But know this, that if the householder had known in what watch the thief was coming, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. Therefore be ye also ready: for in an hour when ye think not the Son of Man is coming." The object is evidently a practical warning to the godly on earth to be ready. They had been comforted in view of trouble and violence; they had been set on their guard against the religious deceits of the old serpent; they had been solemnly assured of the stability of the Lord's words in the very point where Gentile conceit has misled even true believers; they are now exhorted to vigilance and readiness for their coming Lord, that they might not only escape the fowlers, but stand before the Son of Man. For the world, it will be like the unexpected thief, breaking in upon them in their supposed security.
* Ἥμέρα, day (instead of the common reading ὥρα, "hour,") has excellent authority.
From verse 45 to Matthew 25:30, we enter on the parables which pertain to Christendom only, and not to the Jewish remnant. We may regard it as an appendix to the Jewish aspect of which the Lord had been speaking thus far. Hence here we have so distinct a portraiture of profession, true and false. Whenever we touch what is properly Christian, God deals with the heart and conscience. He is calling out and forming those who are to be the companions of His Son in heavenly glory. Therefore nothing is passed by; all is judged of God in its real light. Hence, too, there is no limit here of either place or people. Christianity is above time, and of and for heaven, though it may be divulged in fact on earth during the gap in the dispensations of God made by the rejection of Israel for a season. Christianity is a revelation of grace flowing from Him who now speaks not from earth but from heaven. It is not, I need hardly insist, that evil is slighted. No mistake can be more profound or fatal than that grace implies levity about sin. On the contrary, grace is the very strongest condemnation of all evil, as it is indeed not the mere claim of what man ought to be toward God, but the revelation of what God is toward man in the judgment of his sin in the cross of Christ. Therefore, it is the fullest display of divine hatred and judgment of evil; but this is in Christ, at the cost of His own beloved Son, so as to save the most guilty who believe. When dealing with His earthly people under the law, many things were allowed, for the hardness of their heart, which never had His sanction. But when the complete display of grace shines, as it does now, evil is not borne with but judged. Such is Christianity in principle and in fact. And hence it is that, for the true Christian, all the time for his earthly sojourn is a season of self-judgment; or if he fail in this, the assembly is bound to judge his ways; and if they fail, the Lord judges him and them, holily, but in grace, that they should not be condemned with the world. He may expose false profession here, and now, if He see fit, but the end of it we see in all these three parables. Grace never winks at evil; and if evil take advantage of grace for its own purposes, the issue is frightful, and it will be manifestly so at the coming of the Lord.
And this leads me to remark that the Lord's coming has a two-fold character. First of all, there is His coming in full grace, entirely apart from all question of our service, and consequently of special rewards in the kingdom in which we are to be manifested along with Christ. But we must bear in mind that this manifestation to the world in the future kingdom is far from being the highest part of His glory or even ours, as it does not elicit the deepest exercise of His grace. In receiving us to Himself, on the other hand, all is purely from Himself. It is His own love who would thus have us with and as Himself. It is thus we find John puts the coming of Christ in His Gospel (Matthew 14); nor am I aware that it is ever treated otherwise there. In the Revelation we find both ways. In the first chapter the testimony is, "Behold, He cometh with the clouds," etc. Plainly there is no trace of the saints caught up there, but "Every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him; and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him." The Bride nowhere appears in that scene, but rather what is public and affects the world universally, and especially the blood-guilty Jews; and all are mourning. But the last chapter could not close without letting us know that there is, spite of all evil and woe and judgment, such an one as the Bride awaiting her heavenly Bridegroom. No sooner does He announce Himself the root and offspring of David, the bright and Morning Star, than the Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." Here we have the intimate intercourse of heart between the Lord and the Church. It is impossible for any one not born of God to say "Come," though there may be those who are so born and yet ignorant of their full privilege of union with Christ. And for them, I doubt not, gracious provision is made in the word, "Let him that heareth say, Come." But in no case can the world or an unforgiven soul take up such a call; to such it would indeed be the madness of presumption, for to them His coming must be sure and endless destruction. Again, it is not merely saving flesh, or deliverance out of misery and danger by the overthrow of their enemies: the Holy Ghost never puts the aspect of Christ's coming for us in any such light. We shall have rest, and those who trouble us shall have tribulation in the day of His appearing; but we go to meet the Saviour, and to be with Him for ever; and meanwhile, it is our sweet earthly privilege to suffer for His sake now. We are left for a while in a world where everything is against us because against Him, and we belong to Him. But we know that He waits to come for us, and we wait for Him from heaven; and while the waiting lasts, we are to expect, if faithful to the Lord, nothing but suffering from the world; yet happy in it, assured that glory in heaven and the cross on earth go together. The cup of trial, the reproach and scorn of men, maybe less at one time than another. This is for our Father to give as He sees fit. But if we look for aught else as our natural portion here as Christians, we are unfaithful to our calling. Rejection is ours because we are His: "Therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not."
As the Bridegroom, then, the Lord has nothing but love in His heart to the Bride. Nor is there a question of any save His own. He has told them He is coming; and the greater the power of the Spirit in the soul, the more ardently does the Bride say, "Come." In this heavenly meeting of the Lord with the Bride, how incongruous that other eyes should see, or that wailing throngs should intrude into or witness such a meeting! Scripture does not so speak.
The Jew, the world, which refused the true Christ, will receive the Antichrist. This is what men will fall into; and in the midst of their delusion and apparent triumph the Lord will come in judgment. But when He thus comes, it will not be alone. Others, His heavenly saints, appear along with Him in glory. This is what we see in Col. 3:4; 1 Thess. 3:13, and with detail in Rev. 19. Not angels only, but His saints follow Him out of heaven, clothed in white linen, and on white horses, according to the striking figures of the Apocalypse. The saints had been in heaven before the day of the world's judgment. They must have been removed from earth to heaven before this, in order to follow Him out of heaven and be with Him when that day dawns; and this could only have been through His coming to receive them to Himself. Hence, again, it appears that His coming has a double character, according to the object of each of its steps or stages. He comes to gather to Himself all His saints, dead or living, and shall present them in the Father's house, that where He is, there they may be also. In due time afterwards He brings them with Him, judging the Beast and the false Prophet, the Jews, and the Gentiles, as well as every false professor of His name. This is still His coming, or state of presence: only now it is (what the former act, when He takes us to be with Him, is never called) His "appearing," the "shining forth of His coming" (2 Thess. 2:8), His "revelation," and His "day."
With this second act of the Lord's coming, or His "day," is connected the appraisal of our service, and the assigning of reward for work that has been done. For all must be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ, and each must receive the things done in the body, whether good or bad. Some find a difficulty in bowing to both truths; but if subject to the Word, we shall overlook neither the common blessedness of the saints in the full grace of the Saviour at His coming, nor the recognition of individual faithfulness, or the lack of it, in the rewards of the kingdom. When we read of the many mansions, we are not to dream of one being more glorious than another. The truth conveyed is that we are to be as near and dear as sons can be in the Father's presence, through the perfect love and work of the Son. In this point of view I see no difference whatever. All are brought absolutely nigh, all loved with the love wherewith Christ was loved, and having His portion, as far as can be for the creature. But am I therefore to deny that "every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour?" or that in some cases the work will abide, as in others it will be burnt? or that, as the parable teaches, one servant may receive ten cities, and another five?
It will be found accordingly, that there is a close connection in Scripture between Christ's day, or appearing, and present exhortations to fidelity. Thus, Timothy is exhorted to keep the commandment without spot, unrebukable until the appearing of our Lord Jesus. So the apostle, in 2 Timothy 4, speaks of the "crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing." The results of faithfulness, or of unfaithfulness, are only manifested then. It is the day of display before the world; and "when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall we also appear with Him in glory" (Col. 3:4). Hence it is as awaiting the revelation of our Lord Jesus that the apostle speaks of the Corinthian saints as coming short in no gift, and at once brings in the thoughts of His day. So Christ's day is the blessed end and solemn test of all, in writing to the Philippians. Of the epistles to the Thessalonians I need say the less, as they present in the clearest way both these truths.
Returning now to the first of the three parables (ver. 45) which refer to the Christian profession, I would make the general remark, from what we have been examining, that while the words "appearing," "day," etc., are special (and never used, I think, except where responsibility is concerned) the word "coming" is general; and though applicable, if the context so require it, to cases of responsibility, it is in itself of wider character and is used therefore to express our Lord's return in nothing but grace. In other words, the appearing, day, or revelation of Christ is still His coming or presence; but His coming does not necessarily mean His appearing, revelation, or day. He may come without appearing, and I believe that there is proof from Scripture that so it is when He receives us to Himself on high; but His "appearing" is that further stage of His coming again, when every eye shall see Him.
"Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household to give them meat in due season?" It is not a question of evangelizing here, but of care for the household. The principle of trading outside with the Master's gifts will come by and by (Matt. 25:14, et seq.); but here the great thing is that, as the Lord loves His saints ("whose house are we") so He makes much of faithful or faithless service within that sphere. For I need not say that faithfulness to the Lord involves no denial of the ministry He provides. Ministry when real is of God; though the mode in which it is exercised is often wrong and unscriptural. Ministry is not Jewish, but characteristic of Christianity. But it is a thing very apt to lose its true character. Instead of being Christ's servants in His household, many sink into the agents of a particular body. In such a case it always flows from the church or denomination. Real ministry is from Christ and Him alone. Therefore the apostle says he was the servant or bondman of Jesus Christ, never deriving his mission from the Church or being responsible to it for his work. The gospel and the Church were the spheres of his service (Col. 1); but its giver and his Lord was Christ Himself exclusively. It appears to me that this is necessary, in order that ministry should be recognized as divine; and nothing but divine Ministry is owned in Scripture, nor should be by God's people now. This, then, is the first thing our Lord insists on, that the faithful and wise servant whom the Lord makes ruler over His household be found doing His work, caring for what is so near to Christ. It is a most painful proof of the low state of the Church in these days that such service is regarded as "waste" of precious ointment. So completely have even God's children fallen from the thought of true ministry that they think it idleness or proselytism to attend to those that are within. Why not preach to those without, say they, and seek to bring such to the knowledge of Christ? But this is not the first thing our Lord presses. The "faithful and wise servant" had to do with those within: his object was to give them their meat in due season; and the Lord pronounces that servant blessed. "Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing." Others might raise questions as to the servant's title; but He simply says, If I find you "so doing," blessed are you. The great point is to be doing His will. It is not title or position, but doing the work which the Lord wishes to be done.
But now comes the other side of the picture. "But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants and to eat and drink with the drunken" (vers. 48, 49). There you have the great danger of the professed servants of Christ in this world. First, wronging the fellow-servants by assuming an arbitrary place. Authority is right where it is exercised under obedience to Christ. No change of circumstances or condition alters the truth that the Lord remains head of the Church, and raises up servants at all times to carry out His wishes with authority. But here it is man's will, where the servant takes the place of the Master, and begins to smite his fellow-servants. Secondly, along with that, there is evil communication with the world. It is not said that he is himself drunken; but there is association with the world. "Evil communications corrupt good manners." Where the thought of the Lord is gone, ministry loses its true character. There will be oppression towards those within, and evil commerce with those without. "The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (vers. 50, 51). It supposes that the servant still pursues the same course, and is found there when the Lord comes — his heart thoroughly with the world. He began by saying in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming. This is far more than wrong thoughts about the coming of the Lord, which some saints might hold without this Scripture applying to them. If there were, on the other hand, persons professing to look for the Lord's coming and acting as if they did not believe it, they are much more like the servant saying in his heart, My Lord delayeth His coming. What the Lord judges is not a mere mistake or doctrinal blunder; but it is the state of the heart — content that Christ should stay away. If we are desiring something great and of esteem among men, how can we say, "Come?" His coming would spoil all our schemes. We may talk about the Lord's coming and be learned about prophecy; but the Lord looks at the heart and not at the appearance. Let the profession be ever so loud or high, He see where souls cleave to the world and do not want Him.
"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins." We have here the general aspect of those who bear the name of Christ. The kingdom of heaven here implies a certain economy at a given point of time. "Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom" (ver. 1). "Their lamps" set forth the light of profession. They were witnesses for the Lord, and their calling was to meet the Saviour. That was to be the attitude of the Christian from the first, going forth to meet the Bridegroom. Christianity does not mean that its professors remain where they are, and so look for Christ, but that they leave everything in order to go out and meet the Bridegroom. Some of the early believers were Jews, and some were Gentiles; but they abandoned for Christ their previous connections, their position in the world, and all that they hitherto valued. They had a new object; they knew that the only blessed one in the sight of God was the Saviour; they were waiting for Him, who is in heaven, and they go out to meet Him who has promised to come again. This is the true expectation of the Christian. There ought to be no fixing of dates, but the certain hope that the Lord is coming — we know not when. The stronger such a hope is in our hearts, the more completely separated shall we be from the plans and projects of this world.
"And five of them were wise, and five were foolish." The kingdom of heaven becomes a thing of profession. As in the case of the servants there was an evil as well as a faithful servant, so here we have five wise and five foolish virgins. "They that were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them." They were persons who had the lamp of profession but no oil. Some have thought that they were Christians who failed in looking for the Lord to come. But I believe this to be false, because the foolish proved their folly in this — that they took no oil in their lamps. What does this imply? Oil is the type of the Holy Ghost. We read in 1 John 2 of an "unction from the Holy One." Will anyone maintain that there are real Christians who have not this "unction"? The wise virgins set forth true believers, the foolish ones mere professors; these took the name of Christ, but there was nothing that could fit them for the presence of Christ. Our power of enjoying Christ is entirely by the Holy Ghost. The natural man may admire Christ, but only at a distance, and without an awakened or a purged conscience. There is no living link of relationship between the heart of the natural man and Christ; and therefore man crucified Him. These foolish virgins, having no oil in their lamps, showed that they possessed nothing that could enable them to welcome Christ. The Holy Ghost alone can fit men to stand in the confession of His name to do His work. The oil was that which fed the lamp, and these foolish virgins had none. "But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept" (vers. 4, 5). They all dropped practically the hope of Christ's coming: there was no difference in that. There were true Christians and false, but all were in this respect asleep. Thus, while the original calling of Christians was to wait for Christ's return, being united to Him by the Holy Ghost, yet was there to be a universal slumber as to expecting Christ. But the Lord adds, "At midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him" (ver. 6). Plainly, that cry was the movement of the Holy Ghost Himself. It was the power and grace of God which sent it out by the means that He saw fitting. We are not told how, but it plainly reveals a general movement among Christian professors — a revival of the truth of the coming of the Lord. "Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps" (ver. 7). The cry affected even those who had not the Holy Ghost dwelling in them.
But now comes out the solemn difference. "The foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out," or rather, "are going out." They had lit their wicks, but there was no oil. The light of mere nature burns soon and rapidly, but there is nothing that implies the Spirit of God — they had never had oil. "But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you; but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves." I need not say that the terms on which God sells and man buys the Holy Ghost are, "without money and without price "; but the great point is that every soul must have to do with God. The believer listens, and bows to God in this world; the unbeliever will quail before God in the next world. Grace compels souls to come in and to have to do with Him now, in this world; but if I refuse to face God about my sins here below, I shall find myself lost forever. Now is the day of salvation; and it is only a delusion of the devil to persuade the heart to defer it to a more convenient season. If I go to God about my sins, and because I believe that Jesus is a Saviour, I shall find, not merely Jesus the Son of God but the Holy Ghost given, by whom I shall be able to enjoy the Saviour. The wise had this oil, and they could await the coming of the Lord in peace. But the foolish ones are unacquainted with His grace. And to whom do they go? Not to those who sell without money and without price. "While they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut." Afterward, as we see in the painful picture of the foolish virgins, they come, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour."*
*The words "wherein the Son of Man cometh" have no substantial manuscript authority in this verse. This is no particular view of mine, but it is the judgment of every competent person who has examined the original testimonies.
When the Lord is set forth as coming in the way of judgment, He is spoken of as Son of Man. Here He is represented as the Bridegroom; and if the words "Son of Man" were really to be read here, it would be hard indeed to account for them. How plain that you cannot add anything to Scripture without spoiling it! Our Lord here appears in an aspect of grace toward His saints; and this is one reason why you have no description of the judgment about to fall upon the foolish virgins. The displayed execution of divine vengeance would be incongruous with His title of Bridegroom. No doubt even here the door is shut; and our Lord tells the foolish virgins, when they appeal to Him to open, "I know you not"; but He thereon immediately turns the fact to the spiritual profit of His disciples: "Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour" (ver. 13).
Then comes another parable. "For the kingdom of heaven is [or, literally, "It is] as a man travelling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey" (vers. 14, 15). There our Lord is represented as leaving this world and going to a far country. This is a remarkable way in which our Lord is presented here. In Matthew His home is supposed to be on the earth, because He is the Messiah who came to His own, even if His own received Him not. As the rejected Messiah He leaves His home, and goes, the suffering but glorified Son of Man, to the far country, which is clearly heaven. And while He is gone there He has His servants to whom He has committed certain of His goods; and with these they are to labour. "Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents" (ver. 16). Here we have another kind of ministry. It is not serving the household, and giving them meat in due season, as in Matt. 24:45. It is trading, or going out to others. This is a characteristic of Christianity. In Judaism there was no such thing as the Lord sending His servants here and there to gain souls; but when the Lord Jesus left this world and went up to heaven, He thus sent them out. He left them means to trade withal. It is the activity of grace that goes out to seek sinners, as well as spread the testimony of the truth of God among saints.
If the Lord calls to service He also gives according to our several ability. The character of the gift put at our disposal is suited, in the Giver's wisdom, both to the object and the vessel. There is sovereignty, and all is wisely ordered. How could it be otherwise, seeing that it is the Lord who calls? It is here too that Christendom has so largely failed. Were a man now to begin to preach and teach without some human sanction, many would regard it as a piece of assumption, if not presumption; whereas, in truth, if I look for authority from the churches to preach or serve the Lord, I shall be sinning against Christ. Any appointment by men for such a purpose is unauthorized by and opposed to the mind of Christ; and those whom they would consider acting irregularly are in reality in the lowly path of obedience, and will find their vindication in the great day. It is entirely a question between Christ and His own servants. He gives one to be a prophet, another an evangelist, another a pastor and teacher (Eph. 4). But there are two things in the servant — both of them of importance. He gave them gifts, but it was according to their several ability. The Lord does not call any one to special service who has not an ability for the trust committed to him. The servant must have certain natural and acquired qualifications, besides the power of the Spirit of God. He gave them talents — to one five, to another two, and to another one. Here you have the energy of the Holy Ghost — the power that the Lord gives from on high, over and above His choice of each man "according to his several ability."
It is plain from this that there are certain qualities in the servant independent of the gift that the Lord puts into him. His natural powers are the vessel that contains the gift, and wherein the gift is to be exercised. If the Lord calls a man to be a preacher, there is supposed a natural aptitude for it. Again, the gift may be increased. First, there is the ability of the man before and when he is converted; next, the Lord gives him a gift that he never possessed before; thirdly, if he does not stir up his gift, there may be a weakening, if not loss. He may become unfaithful, and may lose power. But if a man waits upon the Lord, there may, on the contrary, be increased power given to him. Many think that the one qualification of the servant of God is that of the Spirit. This is, of course, essential, and most blessed; but it is not all. The truth is that Christ gives gifts; but He gives them "according to the ability" of the individual. The union of the two facts, the ability of the servant and the sovereignly-bestowed gift given him to trade with, is of all-importance to keep distinctly in view.
But to proceed: "After a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and reckoneth with them. And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: behold, I have gained besides them five talents more. His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant" (vers. 19-21). In chapter 24 it was the "faithful and wise" servant, because, where it is a question of the household, wisdom is needed. But here it is "thou good and faithful servant." Both are called "faithful"; but, in the exercise of the gifts which the Lord sends out to the world with the message of grace, the goodness of God is characteristic. What is the source of all grace in the servant of the Lord? It is the appreciation of God's goodness. This comes out by contrast in the case of the slothful servant. An unconverted man might have a gift from the Lord. The slothful servant was clearly one that never had the knowledge of God: proved in that he did not believe in the goodness of the Lord: he had no confidence in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. In this the evil servant showed what he was. He says, "I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strewed. And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, there thou hast that is thine. His lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed" (vers. 24-26). His lord takes him upon his own ground. If the servant judges him to be hard, On your own ground, he says, "Thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received mine own with usury." According to his self-defence, he had utterly failed: and so it is always. The man who talks about the justice of God cannot for an instant stand before it; while he who casts himself humbly upon the grace of God will be found to walk soberly, righteously, godly, in this present evil world. The denier of the goodness of God is invariably a bad man himself.
So in the matter of our service: whether we have two talents or five, and use them for Him, the Lord will return it to our souls again, and in the day that is coming give us to hear those blessed words, "Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy Lord."
We now come to a subject viewed, I apprehend, with much prejudice by many. It has been perverted, I grieve to say, even by those who love the Saviour and own both the general blessedness of those that belong to Him and the sure doom of those that despise Him. But though all Christians must be in the main agreed on these fundamental truths, when we come to inquire what the Lord intended us to gather from His taking His seat upon the throne of His glory; when we would ascertain who the parties are that the Lord has before Him in this scene, and what the special destiny of the blessed is, we meet with the most various opinions. The root of the difficulty may be traced generally to one thought — the anxiety, even of Christians, to find that which bears upon their own lot. Not being thoroughly at rest touching their acceptance with God, there is ordinarily a disposition to warp Scripture, partly to escape what they dread, and partly to gather comfort for their troubled souls. The greater part of God's children are, more or less, in spirit under the law; and wherever such are honest in this condition, they must be miserable. Comparatively few know the fulness of deliverance in Christ; few know what it is to be dead to the law and married to another, even to Him who is risen from the dead. They may hear and repeat the words of Scripture, thinking they mean something good; but the real meaning and blessing of being dead to the law and united to a risen Saviour very few appreciate. This is the reason why so many are not in a state to understand the word of God. Not enjoying in peace their own position in Christ, they seize upon every promise, with small regard to the objects God had in view. Thus seeking assurance for their own souls, when the Lord speaks of certain Gentiles as "sheep," they think it means us, because we are so called elsewhere, as in John 10. They find these are blessed of the Father, and thence conclude that it can be no other than our hope. Again, certain are here spoken of as "brethren" of the King; and they take it for granted it means ourselves — Christians. In this superficial way Scripture is misunderstood, and the very comfort that souls are grasping after as surely eludes them. Wherever we turn aside the edge of the word of God, and appropriate indiscriminately what is said of persons in a wholly different position, there is loss. God has so arranged everything that the best portion for us is what God has given. We cannot mend the counsels of God, nor add to the riches of His grace. If we know the love that God has to us in Christ, we know the best thing that we can find in earth or heaven. The moment we lay hold of this, and see how greatly we are blest, we cease from the anxiety that each good word of God should converge on ourselves; we see His infinitely greater object, even Christ, and we can delight in others being blest even in what we have not. This is most important practically — that we should be so satisfied with God's love to us, and the portion He has given us in Christ as to rejoice in all that He is pleased to give to others. Are we not sure our Father withholds from us nothing but what would interfere with our blessing? So reading this parable, or prophetic description, we are under no constraint. We can examine it with other scriptures, and see whom the Lord has in view, and inquire what their portion is to be.
"When the Son of Man shall come in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then shall He sit upon the throne of His glory: and before Him shall be gathered all nations" (vers. 31, 32). Here are proofs enough of what the time and circumstances are of which our Lord speaks. He is taking His seat upon His own throne as the Son of Man. He is gathering before Him all the nations. When will this be? Here, at least, it will not be contended that something past is in question. The Lord Jesus is not even yet seated upon His own throne. When on earth He had no throne; when He went to heaven, He sat down on His Father's throne, as says Rev. 3:21: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with Me in My throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His throne." According to this promise, when it shall be fulfilled, He must have left His Father's throne and sat down on His own throne. It is a future thing. Every scripture that touches on our Lord's actual place shows that He is now seated on the Father's throne. But Scripture also shows that He is to sit on His own throne; and this is what we have here. All things in heaven and in earth shall be put under the government of the Lord Jesus. He will be the head of all glory, heavenly and earthly. Of which does this portion speak? Are there any circumstances with which our Lord surrounds His throne that make the answer plain? "Before Him shall be gathered all nations." Are nations in heaven? Clearly not. Who can imagine so gross a thing? When the boundary is crossed that separates the things seen from the unseen, no such earthly sight lowers or distracts the worship above. When men are risen from the dead, they will no longer be known as English or French: these national distinctions, for them, terminate. Their future lot is decided according to their reception or rejection of Jesus in the present life. This future throne of the Son of Man is accordingly connected with a time-state on the earth. The more every word is weighed, the more this will be evident to the unbiased.
If we compare it, in the next place, with a resurrection scene, their distinctiveness will be apparent. In Rev. 20:11, "I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them." There can be no question about this throne. It can have nothing to do with the earth, because the text itself tells us that the earth and heaven fled away. I learn at once the positive contrast between Matthew and Revelation. In the latter only do we hear a word about heaven and earth fleeing away; in the former only we have very plain indications that the Lord is taking His throne in the government of the earth and of men living on it — not judging the dead when the kingdom is about to be given up. Those gathered before Him here are "all the nations" — a term never used about the dead or the risen, but only applied to men here below, and indeed applied only to the Gentiles as distinct from the Jews. For we have already had the Jews in Matthew 24, and now we see the Gentiles; between these two are the parables applying to the Christian profession.
Thus nothing can be more orderly than the whole connection of this prophecy on the mount. The Jews came first, as indeed the disciples themselves still were such; then the parables of the house servant, the virgins, and the talents, which describe the Christian position, soon to be developed, when the Jews should reject the Holy Ghost's testimony. Lastly, another section closes all: neither Jews nor Christians, but "all the nations," or Gentiles, to whom the testimony of the kingdom is to be sent out,* and among whom the Holy Ghost will work (Satan working too, lest they should be brought out of darkness into God's marvellous light). In Rev. 20 we find a great white throne. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand. …" Thus you see the character of this throne at once. Not a living man is there in natural life, but the dead now raised are summoned for judgment before the great white throne. In Matt. 25 not a single dead man is spoken of; in Rev. 20 not a single living man. In Matthew the persons called before the throne are "all the Gentiles," or nations; in Revelation, none but "the dead." "And the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." When we come to look closely into Matt. 25, the principle of judgment is not according to works generally, but only a particular test is pressed upon them — faithful or unfaithful treatment of the king's brethren. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works." There is not a word about this in Matt. 25; and, indeed, the expression of "nations" involves, without a question, the inference that they were not risen from the dead. It is the judgment of those commonly called "the quick" — those living upon the earth at that time — and they are dealt with according to their behaviour to the messengers of the gospel of the kingdom. This will show it is a great error to suppose that all the judgments in the word of God mean one and the same thing. We must leave room for differences here as elsewhere. God indeed is able to meet every difficulty, and to bring out His own perfections in dealing with all that comes before Him.
* This also corresponds with the last three parables of the 13th chapter, as we saw. — [Ed.
Gathering up the contrast of Rev. 20, let us turn to the closing scene in Matt. 25. The title "Son of Man" at once prepares you for a judgment connected with the earth and with persons living there. No doubt the Son of Man comes in the clouds of heaven, but He comes to judge the world and the people on it. It may be even said of churches or assemblies, as in Rev. 1; but whatever the object of the judgment, it is the Lord judging persons still alive upon the earth, and not the dead.
"And before Him shall be gathered all nations: and He shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." It is a careful and divine discrimination — not a mere act of vengeance which deals with masses, in which all might be overwhelmed in common ruin. He separates them one from another. At the great white throne, where the dead stand to be judged, there is no need of separating them there. But here there is a mingled company. Such a mixture is never found in heaven or hell, but only on the earth. Thus every clause gives proof that our Lord speaks of a judgment of the living on the earth. He separates them "as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats." It follows that the persons meant by "the sheep" and "the goats" are respectively the righteous and the ungodly among the nations then living on the earth, when our Lord comes to judge in His quality of Son of Man. It is not now what we have seen in Matthew 24, where He shines suddenly like lightning. Here it is the calm, but most solemn judgment, with everlasting results, according to the discrimination which the Lord makes between individuals. When the judgment of the dead takes place before the great white throne, the heavens and earth are fled away; so that the Lord must have come before then, or there would be no earth as it is now to come to, as we all confess He shall come.
Our Lord, then, is here separating the godly from among the ungodly in those living nations. He disposes of them thus: "Then shall the King say unto them on His right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (ver. 34). However blessed they are, He does not describe them as children of their Father. I do not deny that they are children of God; but He says, "children of My Father." No doubt the words said to them are very precious; but do they reach up to the height of the blessing the grace of God has given us in Christ now? There is nothing here about "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus." They are called to inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. When God laid the foundations of the earth, He was looking onward to this blessed time. Satan's getting power over man was only a fearful interruption, but not one whose consequences the Lord could not overmaster and purge out: He means to do it; and to have this world the scene of incomparably greater blessedness than its present misery is through Satan's work. God means to give the kingdom of this world to His Son — yea, He will have the whole universe put under Christ. Our Lord had a right in His own glory to everything; but He humbled Himself, and laid down His life to deliver us and creation out of Satan's hand, and establish a new and righteous title over all, and bring it back to God.
Again, let it be noted that there is not a word about His bride here. He speaks as "the King," and He is never spoken of as such in His relation to the Church. In Revelation 15 the expression "King of saints" should be "King of nations," quoted from the words of Jeremiah. It is a title we can rejoice in, but it is not His relationship to us. We are called by grace to be members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. Here, in His capacity of King, the Lord severs the righteous Gentiles from their unrighteous fellows — "Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Ephesians 1 speaks of our being "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world;" it is a choice independent of the scene of creation, in connection with which these blessed Gentiles have their portion. Our place may be rather said to be with Him who created all. The world may disappear; but our blessing is identified with Himself. The thief on the cross asked, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom." But our Lord says, "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise." To be with Christ is better than the kingdom — which we also shall inherit. Christ Himself is far beyond all the glory displayed in and to the world. His love ever goes beyond our faith, giving more than we ask of Him.
The blessing given to these godly ones from among the Gentiles, is the inheritance of the kingdom prepared for them by the Father from the foundation of the world. It showed they were possessors of eternal life: "I was a hungered, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in: naked, and ye clothed Me: I was sick, and ye visited Me: I was in prison, and ye came unto Me" (vers. 35, 36). Observe what they answer: "Then shall the righteous answer Him, saying, Lord. when saw we Thee a hungered, and fed Thee? or thirsty, and gave Thee drink?" Could a Christian say such a thing in heaven, where we shall know even as we are known? But these godly Gentiles are evidently in their natural bodies still. And the Lord is instructing them even after He appears in glory. However blessed this scene may be, still it is the Lord as Son of Man judging all nations and blessing the righteous from among them, who, up to that moment, were ignorant that in showing acts of love and kindness towards Christ's messengers, it was so much done towards Christ Himself. Their last lesson was the first that Paul learned on the road to Damascus — the truth that startled his soul: "I am Jesus whom thou persecutest." Paul was taught of the Lord that to persecute the saints living on the earth was to persecute Christ in heaven: they and Christ are one. It is evident that these Gentile sheep set forth men still in the condition that requires and receives instruction from Christ.
"And the king shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto Me" (ver. 40). Who are "these my brethren?" We have had the sheep and goats — the righteous and the unrighteous Gentiles; but who are the King's brethren? Those whom the Lord will send out before He comes in the glory of the kingdom; men sent to announce that He is coming in His kingdom. The sheep showed them love — care — sympathy in their sorrows. So that these brethren of the King must have been exposed to tribulation before the King appears. The conclusion is obvious that, in that day, the ground on which He will deal with the nations will be this — "How did you behave to My messengers?" The King's messengers, immediately before He appears in glory, will go forth preaching the gospel of the kingdom everywhere; and when the King takes His throne, those that received the gospel of the kingdom among the nations are recognized as "sheep," and the despisers perish as "goats." Those that honour the message treat the messengers well — caring for them, and identifying themselves with them — "companions of them that were so used." The Lord remembers this, and counts what was done to His messengers as done to Himself. It will be as truly the work of the Holy Spirit as our entrance into the far fuller testimony of His love now. Their astonishment before His throne at having done anything to Him in the person of His brethren, proves that they were not in the Christian position, though truly believers.
But who were these "brethren?" From general principles of Scripture and the special teaching of this prophetical discourse, there can be little doubt that the King's brethren will be godly Israelites, employed by the Lord, after the Church has been caught up to heaven, to be the heralds of the coming King and kingdom. We know that the Church is to be taken away before the time of the last great tribulation. "Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world to try them that dwell upon the earth." But here there are saints found on the earth — not kept from the hour of temptation, but living on the earth during it, and preaching this gospel of the kingdom. And according to the way in which they are received, the nations will be cursed or blessed. There was no gospel of the kingdom preached before or after the flood, and it is the gospel of the grace of God that is being preached now. The gospel of the kingdom is often confounded with this. I have no doubt, therefore, that the King's brethren are a class, godly Israelites, whom Christ will own as His brethren. There are some blessings the Jewish saints will have that neither you nor I will possess; there are others we shall have that they will not enjoy.
But there is a very solemn back-ground to the blessed entrance into the kingdom: "Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (ver. 41). Observe, He does not say, Cursed of My Father, answering to "Blessed of My Father." God hates putting away. So when the awful moment comes for the curse to be pronounced on these wicked Gentiles, it is "Depart from Me, ye cursed." I believe it is the deepest sorrow to God, and throws all the onus of destruction on those whose own sin it was, who rejected His love and holiness and glory in rejecting His Son. "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." In the other case the kingdom was said to be "prepared for you:" not so when speaking about the curse. Hell was not prepared for poor guilty man. He deserves it; but it was prepared for the devil and his angels. Where the souls rejected the testimony, he does pronounce them cursed. He is the King, the judge. But whether it be the great white throne, or this earthly throne, it is "everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." There was no hope of deliverance for these fallen angels — no redemption for them. They wilfully and without a tempter departed from God. Man was tempted by an enemy; and God feels for guilty man, drawn away by a mightier, if not more guilty, rebel than himself. How solemn to think that it was prepared for others, and that men share it with these rebellious spirits? It was not in the heart of God to make a hell for miserable man: it was prepared for the devil and his angels. But there were those who preferred the devil to God; and to such He says, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels." The same test is applied to them as to the godly before — the treatment of the King and of His messengers, or rather of Him in them.
To us, although the same principle is involved, yet, in one way, what is yet deeper comes in. All turns upon — What think ye of Christ? Do you believe on the Son of God? "He that hath the Son hath life, and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life" (1 John 5). The sinner is obliged to face the person of the Son of God, and it becomes an urgent, all-absorbing, eternal question that must be decided by the soul — Do I prefer Christ to the world? Do I prefer Christ or self? The Lord grant that we may be wise, and know how to find in Christ both the salvation and the power of God. For the same blessed One who gave us life gives us power for every practical difficulty. "This the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith."
The Lord had rendered His testimony, as the Faithful Witness, in deeds as well as words. He had finished all the sayings which proclaimed Him to be the Prophet like unto Moses, as prophesied by him (Deut. 18:15), but incomparably greater withal, and who was henceforth to be heard on peril of eternal ruin. And now the hour approached, the solemn hour of His sufferings; and Jesus passes into it in spirit, with the calm dignity suited to Himself alone.
The religious guides were resolved on His death. The chief priests, the scribes, the elders, all of one mind in this, assembled at the high priest's palace. They consulted, they plotted; but after all, if they consummated their infamy, they unwittingly accomplished the words of Christ to His disciples, rather than their own plan of wickedness. They said to each other, "Not on the feast-day, lest there be an uproar among the people" (ver. 5); but He said to His disciples, "Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover, and the Son of Man is betrayed to be crucified" (ver. 2). Did they wish to kill Him? They must do it then. Man has his wickedness, and God has His way. But little did either the friends or the foes of Jesus know how the determinate counsel of God was to be brought to pass. A traitor from within the innermost circle, fit instrument for Satan's scheming malice, must lift up his heel against the Saviour, the leader of that adulterous and now apostate generation into the pit of perdition. The enemy degrades morally his victims — ever the consequence of evil — and the beautiful offering of love (fruit of the Holy Ghost in her who poured the very precious ointment from the alabaster box on the head of Jesus) gave occasion to the basest motives in Judas, and the final success of the tempter over a soul, spite of the constant seeing and hearing of Christ, long inured to secret guilt (vers. 6-16).
I am compelled through circumstances to glance but cursorily at these final and affecting scenes. Yet let us not fail to observe, first for our warning, how easy it is for eleven good men to be led astray by the fair pretences of one bad man, who was influenced by evil feelings unknown to them. Alas! the flesh, even in the regenerate, remains ever the same hateful thing, and there is no good for the believer save where Christ is the object and controls the heart. Next, for our joy, how sweet to find that love to Christ is surely vindicated of Him and has the Spirit's guidance in the weakest one, spite of the murmurs of those who seem ever so high and strong! Thirdly, if a saint manifested her estimate of Jesus — so lavishly in the judgment of utilitarian unbelief — what was His value in the eyes of the bribing priests and of the betrayer? "And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver" (ver. is). A slave's price was enough for the despised Lord of all! (Compare Ex. 21:32; Zech. 11:12-13.)
Still, in the face of all, the Lord pursues His path of love and holy calm; and when the disciples inquire His pleasure as to the place for eating the paschal feast, He speaks as the conscious Messiah, let Him be ever so rejected: "Go into the city to such a man, and say unto him, The Master saith, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at thy house with My disciples" (ver. 18). As the twelve were eating, He tells out the grief of His heart: "Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me" (ver. 21) — which fails not to elicit the reality of their affections and their deep grief. If Judas imitated their inquiry of innocence, fearful that his own silence would detect him, and, it may be, counting on ignorance because of the Lord's generality of expression ("one of you"), he only thereby hears his doom brought personally home. Prophecy was accomplished, "but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed."
Nothing, however, arrests the flow of Christ's love. "And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is My body. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; for this is My blood of the New Testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (vers. 26-28). The bread, but especially the cup, set forth the Messiah, not alive on earth, but rejected and slain. The broad truth is given here, as by Mark, in "This is My body," without dwelling on the grace which gave it; it is the truth in itself without accessories seen elsewhere. Stress is laid on "My blood of the new covenant which is shed for many," because the refusal of the Messiah by Israel, and His death, opened the way for others outside — for Gentiles; and it was important for our Evangelist to note this. Luke has it, "shed for you" (i.e., for the believers in Jesus); Matthew adds, "for the remission of sins," in contrast with the blood of the old covenant, which held forth its penal sanction: for the blood in Ex. 24 sealed on the people their promise of obedience to the law under menace of death: here, in the Saviour's blood, they drink the witness of their sins blotted out and gone. "But," adds He, "I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom" (ver. 29). He is henceforth separated from joy with them till the Father's kingdom come: then He will resume His association with delight in His people here below. The godly drink His blood with thankful praise now: by and by He will drink the wine of joy new with us in the Father's kingdom. Till then He is the heavenly Nazarite; and so, consequently, should we be in spirit.
After the supper they sang a hymn — how blessed at such a time! — and repaired to Olivet (ver. 30). With ineffable grace the Lord lets them know the trial which should befall and shake them all that very night, and this according to the written Word, even as that which He had shown concerning Himself. (Compare vers. 24 and 31.) The flesh had proved itself and its worth in the "goodly price" it set on Jesus; it was also to prove the value of its self-confidence and of its boasted courage on His behalf — "All ye shall be offended because of Me," etc. Peter, who most trusted His own love for the Saviour, proved it bitterly for himself and glaringly to others (vers. 32-35). Thus the end of the trials would be to confirm their faith and deepen their distrust of self, making Christ their all in everything; and He, risen, would go before them into Galilee, resuming in resurrection-power the relationship which He had with them there in the days of His flesh.
The next scene, in the garden, equally perfect in its display of Jesus, and most humbling in its exhibition of the choicest of the apostles, shows us the picture, not of holy calm in the full knowledge of all that awaited Himself and His disciples, but of anguish to the uttermost, and of death realized in all its horrors as before God (vers. 36-46). What an insight Gethsemane gives us of Him, Jehovah-Messiah though He was, as the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief! Who ever saw affliction as He? Not only had Jesus to know the depths of the cross in atonement as none other could; bow His head under the full, unsparing judgment of God when made sin for us; but He underwent beyond all others the anticipative pressure of death on His soul as the power of Satan, feeling it perfectly, and the more deeply by taking it from His Father's and not from the enemy's hand. It was the "strong crying and tears" to His Father now, as afterward to God as such when it was a question of actual sin-bearing on the tree. "And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith He unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with Me" (vers. 37, 38). When the cross came, there was no such call to disciples to watch with Him. He was alone, absolutely, essentially, for us — that is, for our sins — with none of men or angels in any way or measure near Him (morally speaking) — alone, when God forsook and hid His face from Him on whose head met all our iniquities. Here, in Gethsemane, it was pleading as a Son with His Father, when "He went a little farther, and fell on His face [prostrate in His earnestness], and prayed, saying, O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt" (ver. 39). He watched, and prayed, and entered not into temptation, though tempted to the uttermost. But He finds the disciples asleep: they could not watch with Him one hour. "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak"; and so it was again and again with them, till He bade them sleep, but warned them that the hour was at hand, as the traitor drew near.
But the same flesh which drags down to sleep when the Lord called to watch and pray is zealous enough with carnal weapons when Judas came with his deceitful kiss and a multitude following (vers. 47, etc,), though it preserved not from, but rather led into, either forsaking the Master or denying Him. Jesus, past the conflict at Gethsemane, in all dignity and peace before man, goes forward to meet God's will at their wicked hands; in meekest words (vers. 50-54) laying bare the base evil of Judas, the rash weakness of His inconsiderate defender, and points to His approaching death, spite of His title to command legions of angels in His behalf — who withal speaks worlds into existence and annuls the wicked by His word. But He was a prisoner for the will of God, not of man's power.
Before Caiaphas (vers. 57-68) He is counted guilty of death — not because the falsehood of the witnesses succeeded, but because of His own confession of the truth. He, the Son of God, come in fulness of grace and truth as He was, they should henceforth see Him, the Son of Man, sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming in the clouds of heaven — His present position and His manifestation when He comes in power and glory.
Yet, in the midst of His rejection and contumely at the hands of high and low among His own outward people, Jesus causes His mighty word to be remembered by poor Peter, bold now in denying Him with cursing and swearing (vers. 69-75). "And he went out and wept bitterly." Oh, what a servant! what a Lord!
All through this Gospel the Holy Ghost bears in mind very particularly our Lord's relations with Israel. Hence, in the preceding chapters, where we had the destruction of Jerusalem foretold, care was taken to bring out also the preservation of a godly remnant of Israel — a fact which would be of special comfort to His own people. And, just as we have seen in that prophetic testimony, so in the narrative of the crucifixion, what comes out peculiarly in Matthew's Gospel is the part which Israel took in that solemn act, in their accomplishment of what was written in the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, touching their rejection of their own Messiah. Our Evangelist wrote with express view to the Jews, and hence it was of the greatest importance to convince them that God had accomplished the promises in the sending of the Messiah, whom Israel's unbelief had refused and crucified by Gentile hands on the tree. What would be the special value of quoting from the Law and the Prophets to Gentiles? The Old Testament Scriptures formed a book of which the heathen had the scantiest knowledge. We do find references to these Scriptures in Luke, just enough to give a link, but that is all. But Matthew, while written for all surely, has Israel especially in view. Hence it is that the Lord is so distinctly and carefully presented as Messiah in this Gospel; but from the first enough is intimated to show His rejection. In the subsequent details we see not only broad predictions accomplished, but the progress and development of that enmity. The guilt of the religious leaders is prominent, and their religious evil works, which are especially offensive to God; the devil bringing in the name of God to give effect to and to sanction what is done by man.
Hence the activity of evil here is by the priests. "When the morning was come" — they rise early to accomplish their design. And mark, it is said, "all the chief priests," etc. This shows the utter ruin and blindness of the nation. It was a most startling fact, and a capital one for a Jew to understand (for a Jew knew that the priesthood was instituted and ordered of God), that those who ought to have been the sure guides of the people were their misleaders in the greatest of all sins. Were not the sons of Aaron divinely chosen? Were not these their successors? Were not the Jews a people called out from the rest of the world to own the true God and His law? All most true surely; but what were they and their leaders now about? Taking counsel and planning to destroy their Messiah! And these were the men who had the best light of any nation! All the use man made of the light possessed was to become more hardened and bitter in rejecting the Son of God! "And when they had bound Him, they led Him away, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor" (ver. 2). Whatever part the Gentiles take in it, God takes care to point out that the Jews were not only the instigators but the open prosecutors in the awful deed.
"Then Judas, which had betrayed Him, repented himself. … saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood" (vers. 3, 4). Awful picture of what Satan brings about in a wretched human heart! Only the farther from Jesus morally because he was the nearer externally. Most of all guilty are those who have the greatest outward privileges while the truth of God does not govern the soul. We see, too, the mockery of Satan — the way in which he cheats his victims. Manifestly Judas did not expect such an end for Jesus. He had known the Lord in imminent peril before; he had seen Him, when the people took up stones to cast at Him, hiding Himself, going through the midst of them, and passing on His way. He knew how Jesus could walk on the sea — how He could conquer all the obstacles of nature; and why not the raging storm of human passion and violence? But Judas was deceived, whatever his calculations may have been; he yielded to covetousness; he bargained for the blood of Jesus. To his horror, he found it but too true. And Satan, who had led him on by his love of money, leaves him without hope — in black despair. He goes to the priests, who heartlessly turn away from a miserable, despairing soul. Alas, confession of sin without confidence in God for His grace, is worthless — fruitless of any good. Cleave to God, my soul! and give Him credit for what He is in Christ. But there is no faith where Jesus is not loved; and Judas had neither. All the outward nearness he had enjoyed before was only a greater weight upon his lost soul now. What a thing is the end of sin even in this world, sin against Jesus!
Judas brings the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders with the confession, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood." They could not deny the truth of this; but with utter heartlessness, more hardened if possible than Judas' own heart, they say, "What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself" (vers. 4, 5). Many a one sells Jesus virtually, if not literally. Let every soul look to it that his sin be not in some way akin to that of Judas. If God is calling sinners to a knowledge of His Son, and of His grace by Him, it is an awful thing to reject Him; it is selling Jesus for some object in this world which either we seek to attain or love too well to part with. In Judas this came out in its worst form; but perdition is not confined to him who is the son of perdition.
"And the chief priests took the silver pieces," etc. Conscience would have told them that theirs was the guilt of bribing Judas to betray Jesus, but it had long been seared as with a hot iron, and now was utterly dead toward God, as it shows itself heartlessly cruel toward Judas. Religion without Christ only serves as the means to cheat the soul. They said, "It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood." Here was religion; but where was conscience in giving the money for Jesus? "And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day" (vers. 7, 8). The memory of their guilt is thus perpetuated to their own condemnation. And this is a picture of what the people had become — the chief priests as the pattern of what the nation was. A field of blood that land remains to this day; a field "to bury strangers in." Israel being cast out of their own land, it is left to others, if only to be buried there.*
* This rather applies to the Jews themselves. Cast out of their own land on account of the blood of the Just One, of which they said, "His blood be on us, and on our children," they have been "strangers" among all nations in the world since — where they have their graves, but not their home. — [Ed.
But it is not the chief priests and elders, nor the wretched condition of Judas, nor the perpetuation of Israel's wickedness, foretold by the prophet, that occupies us now. It is our Lord Himself, standing before the governor. He acknowledges the power of the world when Pilate asks Him, "Art Thou the King of the Jews?" To the chief priests and elders He answers nothing. Pilate, struck by the silence and moral dignity of his prisoner, desires His release, sees through the malice of the people, and proposes to them a choice, such as was the governor's custom: "Whom will ye that I release unto you?" But he had to find out the hatred with which men regarded Jesus: there is no person or thing the malice of man does not prefer to Him. God takes care, too, that there should be a home testimony to the conscience of the governor. His wife sent a message, saying, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of Him" (ver. 19). This, which is recorded only in Matthew, disturbed Pilate the more. All of it God ordered that man's iniquity in rejecting Jesus should be evident and without excuse. Then observe the solemn lesson: "The chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus" (ver. 20). The greater the moral advantages, where there is not simple faith in God, the greater the hatred of Jesus. The reception or rejection of Jesus now is the same thing in principle, though, no doubt, the circumstances of the world are changed.
Persons may know just enough of Jesus for their souls' salvation, and experience little of the world's rejection; but if I really cling to a crucified and now glorified Christ, I must know what it is to have the scorn and ill-will of the world. If the world rejected Him, I must be prepared for the same thing. We cannot make both heaven and earth our object any more than we can serve God and mammon. The cross and the glory go together. The Lord presented hopes of blessing on the earth to Israel if they had received Him; but they refused, and this brought in the cross of Jesus. God knew it was inevitable, because of man's wickedness; it was the occasion of bringing in His purpose as to the Church and heavenly glory; but we must prepare for as much as man chooses to do in the present state of society. It is a lie of Satan that man is altered for the better during the last eighteen hundred years; the natural man's heart is always the same, though there may be times when it comes to a crisis. The very people, who "wondered at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth," the same day sought to cast Jesus down headlong. And what was it that brought out their enmity? The assertion of man's evil and God's true grace. Man cannot endure the thought that his salvation depends upon God's mercy, and is for the worst of sinners, as for any other. "Is it possible," he says, "that I, who have tried to serve God for so many years, should be treated like a drunkard, a swindler, or a harlot?" He turns round on God, and becomes His open enemy. But, after all, it is not a question of justice to man in the salvation of a sinner. It must be grace, if God saves any; and this He delights to show. Nor is it a partial remedy, for there is no case so desperate that His grace cannot reach.
"Pilate saith unto them, What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ? They all say unto Him, Let Him be crucified." Here we see the bitter unrighteousness of these religious men; and if Pilate seemed too sensible at first to act thus, we shall also see what his righteousness amounts to. He asks, "Why, what evil hath He done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let Him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water," etc. (vers. 23, 24). This is what the world's righteousness amounts to, whether in the chief priests or in the Roman. True righteousness is only found where God governs. One alone in this scene is found in the patience, goodness, wisdom of God — perfect in every way. When it was the time to speak, His word is spoken; when it was the time to be silent, He holds His peace. He was God upon earth, and all His ways perfect. But this is not the great point here. As John's Gospel specially develops the deity of our Lord, and Luke His humanity, in Matthew we see Him as Messiah; therefore Pilate asks Him here, "Art thou the King of the Jews?" When Pilate had "washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it" (as if that could relieve him of the fearful crime he was perpetrating), all the people answered and said, "His blood be on us, and on our children" and there the dark, fatal stain abides to this day. "When he (Pilate) had scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified." And this is the righteousness of the judge! This was he who had just before called Jesus a just man. Then come the soldiers. They too, and all, are proved guilty. Not a class or condition of man but evinces its hatred of God in the person of His Son — shown, too, in that which was their pride. For what base cowardice is that which tramples down one who suffers unresistingly! "And they stripped Him, and put on Him a scarlet robe. And when they had plaited a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head; … and they spat upon Him, and took the reed, and smote Him on the head," etc. (vers. 28-30). The soldiers' tyranny comes out in this connection: they compel one in nowise implicated to do a service which they would not do — "As they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear His cross."
At the cross "they gave Him vinegar to drink mingled with gall" (ver. 34). We must not confound this circumstance with that mentioned in John where the Lord says, "I thirst." In Matthew's narrative it was the stupefying draft administered to prisoners before they suffered; and this the Lord would not drink. Whereas in John, the Lord, while on the cross, fulfils a scripture. In John He is regarded, not as One who did not suffer, but withal as the absolute Master over all circumstances. Alive therefore to the honour of Scripture, and in fulfilment of a word which had not as yet received its accomplishment, He says, "I thirst." "And they filled a sponge with vinegar. … and put it to His mouth." He did drink the vinegar then. But here in Matthew, on the contrary, "when He had tasted thereof, He would not drink" (ver. 34) — He wished for no alleviation from man. "And they crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots."
The superscription differs in the various Gospels. We must remember that Pilate wrote it in three different languages, and it may not, therefore, have been exactly the same in each. One Gospel (Mark) does not profess to give anything but the substance of what was written, the accusation, or charge, against Him; in the others the Holy Ghost gives the words. And what appropriateness is here! "This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (ver. 37). The great thing for the Jew is the identifying of their Messiah and King with Jesus. In Luke the word "Jesus" ought to be omitted, as in the best authorities. It is really, "The King of the Jews, this!" and means, "this fellow" — a term of contempt. The object there is to show that "He is despised and rejected of men ": here, "He came to His own, and His own received Him not because, though the Gentile shares the guilt, it is the Jew who leads Pilate to condemn Him to death. In John we have, characteristically, the fullest form of all — "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews." The reason is, it unites two things in our Lord not anywhere else so brought into juxtaposition — the most complete humiliation and the highest glory. He by whom all things were made, God Himself, was a man of "Nazareth." The beauty of this must appear to any spiritual mind. Throughout John's Gospel the Lord is both higher and lower than anywhere else.
"The thieves also, which were crucified with Him, cast the same in His teeth" (ver. 44). They found time to revile Jesus too, venting their bodily anguish in mockery of the Son of God. Oh, beloved friends, was there ever such a scene?
We have briefly looked at man's part, but what was God doing there? "About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (ver. 46.) We have full evidence that this was not the exhaustion of nature. And "when He had cried again with a loud voice, He yielded up the ghost" (ver. 50). Our Lord died a willing victim. Man might will His death, and be the instrument of it. A man He became, that as a man He might die: but in every circumstance it is so marked as to show that He was there who could as easily have swept away a world as of old He laid the foundations of heaven and earth by His word. He "yielded up the ghost; and, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent" (vers. 50, 51). Nature was made to yield its testimony above and below; and the darkness over the land was no mere eclipse. The Jewish system, too, yielded its solemn witness in the rent veil — the shadows were passing away: the fulfilment of them, the great Reality, had come. Unrent, it had been the symbol that man could not draw near to God. Under the law it could never be. God dwelt then in the thick darkness. But in the death of Jesus fulness of grace has come. God and man may now meet face to face. The blood is sprinkled upon and before the mercy-seat, and man is invited to draw near with holy boldness. It is due to that precious blood. God in Him had come down from heaven to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. For every soul that believes, it is done. The Jewish system might linger on, like a corpse waiting so many days for burial; but the rending of the veil was the soul severed from the body. Thus there was witness on every hand — from the earth, the heaven, the law, and the unseen world. Jesus has the keys of hades and of death. The very graves were unlocked when Jesus died, if the bodies of the saints did not rise till after the resurrection. He was Himself the first-fruits, and the power of life was brought in through His resurrection. What testimony could be more complete? The centurion set for the watch, heathen as he was, no doubt, "feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God."
"And many women were there beholding afar off." But where were the disciples? Oh, what withering condemnation of all boasted courage! They had forsaken Jesus and fled; but here were these women, contrary to their natural timidity, "out of weakness made strong," beholding, even though afar off. In Joseph of Arimathea we see a man who had a great deal to lose: a rich man and a counselor, and withal a secret disciple of Jesus. Now God brings him to a point when you might least expect it. With the death of Jesus on the cross — "numbered with the transgressors" — he goes to Pilate, begs His body, and having laid it in his own new tomb, rolls a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, unwittingly fulfilling Isa. 53:9 — "with the rich in His death." If apostles and disciples fled, God can, and does, raise up testimony for His name's sake.
We have traced the history of self in this chapter. If we had all the riches, the learning, the power, of this world, none, nor all, of these could make us happy. Jesus can, and does. But let us remember that we are in the enemy's country, which has shown its treachery to our Master. If we do not feel that we are passing through the camp of those who crucified Jesus, we are in danger of falling into some ambuscade of the enemy. The Lord grant us that calmness of faith which is not occupied with self, but with Him who His own self bore our sins in His own body on the tree!
The special purpose of this Gospel appears in the account of the Lord's death and resurrection as plainly as elsewhere. Hardly any portion, indeed, more strikingly illustrates it than the chapter before us. Thus we have no mention of our Lord's ascension. If we had only Matt. 28, we should not have known as a fact that the Lord went up to heaven at all. It is impossible without a special purpose that the apostle could have omitted an event so glorious and interesting. Not that this omission is a defect in Matthew's narrative; on the contrary, it is a part and proof of its perfection, when the scope is understood. Were the ascension scene introduced here, it would be out of keeping with the history that closes in our chapter. Yet even now it is one of the points that learned men stumble over. Neglecting the evidence of design, they reason a priori, and consequently cannot understand why such an event should be left out by our Evangelist. Evidently they do not believe, in any full sense, that God wrote these Gospels; else they would conclude that the fault lay in their ignorance and misreasoning. A simple-hearted believer, though he may not understand why, rests satisfied that the omission in Matthew is as perfect as the insertion of it in Luke; everything is as it should be in the word of God, as He wrote it. And the notion that something is now wanting, which Matthew once wrote as a conclusion, is contrary to all evidence, external and internal.
Before closing, I shall endeavour to show how its presence here would be incongruous and detract from the beauty of the picture God was supplying: on the other hand, its presence where it does occur elsewhere is, I need hardly add, equally beautiful and necessary. Events are selected in connection with the immediate subject. Taking the chapter as it comes, we see that the Holy Ghost here confines Himself to a Messiah risen from the dead, who meets His disciples in Galilee, outside the rebellious city. In other parts of this Gospel the ascension is implied or assumed, as in Matthew 13:41; Matthew 16:27-28; Matthew 22:44; Matthew 24; Matthew 25; and, above all, Matthew 26:64. It was therefore not omitted ignorantly, nor has any accident robbed us of it in the original. I only say this as entirely refuting the foolish and irreverent reasoning of men, chiefly moderns.
"In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn, etc. (ver. 1) This was not the morning of the resurrection-day, but the evening previous to it. We, with our western reckonings of time, might think only of the early twilight; but it means simply that the week was drawing to its close. We must remember that to a Jewish mind evening twilight commenced the new day.* An exactly similar phrase occurs in Luke 23:54, where the Jewish sense cannot be doubted. The Holy Ghost does not continue the description of this visit of the women to the sepulchre. There is no real ground for connecting the circumstances of the first three verses of this chapter.** The first merely presents the devotedness of these holy women. When the disciples had gone to their own homes, these women, spite of natural fears at such a place and time, could not stay away. They had prepared spices for embalming the body, but rested the sabbath-day (as we read in Luke), according to the commandment. "It was just getting dusk" is the true thought here. It was the twilight after the sabbath. Their hearts took them to the grave, being bound up with Jesus, as soon as the sabbath-law permitted.
* This is according to Gen. 1:5: "And the evening and the morning were the first day." So vers. 8, 13, etc.: to this the Jewish reckoning conformed. If we believe that Gen. 1 has also a symbolical application, as others have clearly shown, the omission of "evening and morning" on the seventh day very significantly points to God's rest (and ours with Him) in new creation, where sin shall not enter, and His rest shall not be broken. — [Ed.
**This is quite in keeping with what we have found in Matthew elsewhere. The reader can compare καὶ ἰδ ού ("and behold") in Matthew 8:2 with the same in Matthew 28:2. The true connection is in the object of the narrator, not in mere time. There is no ground to suppose the women witnessed the earthquake: the soldiers, I believe, alone did.
"And, behold, there was a great earthquake," etc. This was an after-occurrence; how long after is not said. We have simply a narrative of events one after another, in these early verses, without defining the intervals of time. We must not confound the visit of the women here (in verse 1) with their visit on the morning of the first day mentioned by Mark and in our verse 5, etc. The Lord was not on this last occasion in the sepulchre, and the angel, descending and rolling away the stone, had nothing directly to do with the Lord's rising. No such interposition was in any way necessary to Him. God raised Him, and He Himself rose — taking up His life as He had laid it down. Such is the scriptural doctrine of the resurrection. This angelic action was, I suppose, to call the attention of men to the Divine act in the resurrection of Jesus, and the more fully to set aside the deceits or the reasonings of enemies.* So the angel's word is, "Come, see the place where the Lord lay."
*Perhaps more especially for the comfort and assurance of the sorrowing disciples, as well as the announcement to them of the resurrection of Jesus. [Ed.
One remarkable consequence of the resurrection is always pressed: the angel says, "Fear not ye." That mighty act of God is intended forever to dispel the alarm of those who believe in Jesus, by giving them the certainty of His intervention on their behalf. Up to the advent and resurrection of Jesus there was a measure of darkness and uncertainty, however great the kindness and mercy shown by the Lord. The resurrection left all the world apparently undisturbed; but what was the great resulting truth and blessing for the people of God? To faith it is the triumph of God over the last efforts of sin and the power of Satan. No doubt death is still in the world, pursuing its ravages. And what is the resurrection to you? says the caviller. Everything, if Christ is my life. I am entitled to have the comfort of it; my soul is welcome to drink into the joy of it, though my body does not yet share the deliverance. God has shown me in the cross of Christ the perfect witness of suffering for sin. Man believes not that He is the Son, and cannot understand how God could allow His best-beloved to suffer. Others too had cried to God; and, spite of all their faults, they had been heard; yet, in the extremity of Christ's sufferings, and spite of His grace and glory, and of the Father's love to Him, He cried and was not heard! For truly, in all His life He was the beloved One over whom the heavens opened with delight. But upon the cross the crisis is come, and all is changed. It might have seemed to the world that all was over with the claims of Jesus. He had died on the cross, and by His own confession was forsaken of God. Was all now as man or the devil desired? On the third day God interferes: Jesus rose from the dead, and all the power of earth and hell was shaken to its centre. Resurrection settled everything in peace for the believer. Every cause for fear and unbelieving sorrow was buried in the grave of Christ. Every blessing overflows in Him risen. How much is made of this in the Epistles! Nothing is more fundamental or more insisted on. Vague thoughts of God's goodness, love, etc., would not be enough for the solid comfort of God's people. Full, settled peace is founded on the solid basis to which God points — the death and resurrection of Jesus. If His death meets all my evil, His resurrection is the spring and pattern of the new life and acceptance — beyond sin, and death, and judgment. Our life, our peace, our new place before God, are now to be associated with Jesus risen.
The course of the world was not interrupted by the Lord's resurrection. Men slept as usual, and rose as if nothing had happened. Yet was it the greatest work of power that God had ever wrought; yea (founded on the deepest suffering that ever was endured), it was the greatest work He ever will do; and I say this looking on to the day when everything shall be made new according to His glory. These are the consequences of Christ's resurrection, the applications of the power put forth therein. But if the world was indifferent to it, what should it be to us? Say not it is a little thing because it is as yet a matter of faith. Into the midst of this scene of weakness and death the mighty power of God has entered, and has been put forth here in the resurrection of Christ. No more could God do, nor needs to do, to blot out sin: it has been put away by the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus was treated as if He were covered with it, as if it were all His own. If it was to be removed, He must bear it thoroughly: He did so, and now it is gone; and we rest upon what God tells us of Him and it. This is what tests the soul's confidence in God. Am I willing to trust God, when I cannot trust myself? Sin brought in distrust of God; but the gift, death and resurrection of Christ more than restore what was lost, and establish the soul in such a knowledge of God as no angel ever did or can possess. What my soul wants is, not that God should be so merciful as not to destroy me because of my sins, but a full deliverance with a full judgment of sin (Rom. 8:1, 3). We can not have fellowship with God except on the ground of sin being taken away righteously. Jesus crucified has abolished sin before God for those who believe. To believe God about the death of His Son because of our sin is to take God's part against ourselves. Before Him to acknowledge ourselves lost sinners is repentance toward God, and inseparable from faith.
Perfect love is in God, and comes out of the depth of His own holy being. God became a man that He might go through the whole moral question of sin: that done in Christ is the triumph of grace. No wonder then that the angel could say, "Fear not ye." The resurrection shows every hindrance gone. The angel acknowledges Him as Lord ("Come and see the place where the Lord lay"); but what a blessing to be able to say our Lord! What a joy thus to own that risen One who was crucified as entitled in everything to command! No doubt, what made His work of value was that He was God Himself — One who, while He was a man, was infinitely above man — a daysman — One who could lay His hand upon both. The angel intimates this, that in the presence of a risen Saviour there was nothing for the most timid believer to fear. On the other hand, Acts 17:31 says: "He [God] hath appointed a day in the which He will judge the world in righteousness by that Man whom He hath ordained; whereof He hath given assurance unto all men in that He hath raised Him from the dead." If I do not trust to a risen Saviour for the deliverance of my soul, I participate in the guilt of His death. If I have not fled for refuge to Him, I belong to the same firm, as it were, that crucified Him. But by faith in Him I am washed from this guilt by His blood. How just that the provision of grace which signs the believer's deliverance should, if despised, become the dead weight that sinks the world! If I believe Him, I know it was man that crucified Jesus; and not merely profane man; for the guilt pervades all. And there is one only door of deliverance for any, and this is Jesus crucified. "Fear not ye." There is no need of alarm, for He is risen. "I know that ye seek Jesus," etc. It was the heart set upon Jesus that was valued. It had ever been in the mind of God to blot out sin; but now it was all gone; and God was waiting for this to declare the glad tidings. He who was full of holy love in giving Jesus to die, now raised Him up from the dead, and gave Him glory, that our faith and hope might be in God. If my faith and hope are in God, my delight is in Christ; if in myself, Christ becomes to me a cipher, and I justly perish forever. If I have not Christ for my rest and delight, for my Saviour and Lord, here, I must by and by quail before Him as my judge.
And now, returning to the women, they were to go and tell His disciples that Jesus was risen from the dead, and was going before them into Galilee. In Luke there is no notice of Galilee, but there He joins the two disciples going to Emmaus; and when they returned to Jerusalem the same evening, they "found the eleven gathered together. … saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon." Jesus Himself appears in their midst. All circumstances there have Jerusalem as their centre. In Matthew the great point pressed is the meeting-place assigned in Galilee. And why? Is it not remarkable on the face of it that one should give the meeting of Jesus with His disciples in Jerusalem, the other in Galilee? Has not God some truth to teach me hereby? We are apt to measure the importance of a truth by its results to ourselves; but the true standard is its bearing on the glory of God. The way in which God gives us His truth, after all, is also the best for us. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is found in Galilee. Jerusalem refuses Him, was troubled at His birth, and cast Him out unto death, even the death of the cross. "We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted," exactly describes their feeling. They looked in the Messiah for something suited to their earthly idea; they vented their disappointment in the rejection of the Son of God. In accordance with this, then, Matthew records that the scene of His living labours, as also where He manifested Himself as risen after the house of Israel rejected Him, was Galilee — the place of Jewish scorn. He shows Himself anew in despised Galilee of the Gentiles, when all power is given to Him in heaven and earth; and there He gives the godly remnant from His ancient people their great commission.
"And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them," etc. In John, where Mary recovers her beloved Lord, as she thinks, He says, "Touch Me not." How comes it that here, when the women came and held Him by the feet, our Lord does not forbid it? A totally different truth is thus set forth by these acts. The great hope of Israel was to have Christ in their midst. But to us the absence of Christ on high, while we go through our time of trial, is just as characteristic as His presence will be to them. John speaks fully of our Lord's going away: another scene of glory entirely distinct from this world is brought out there. Hence the teaching implied is, as it were, You may have been looking as Jews for a scene where I shall be personally present; but instead of this, I tell you of My present place on high, and the many mansions that I go to prepare for you in My Father's house. He reveals to them a heavenly hope totally distinct from His reigning over His people in this world: therefore in John the Lord says to Mary, "Touch Me not, for … I ascend," etc. But in Matthew we are shown Jesus rejected by Jerusalem, yet found in Galilee, even after His resurrection. Whatever His power and glory now, and the comfort and blessing to His own, He is still, as regards the Jews and Jerusalem, the rejected and despised Messiah. Hence it is that on this occasion He confirms the message of the angel, saying to the women, "Be not afraid: go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me" (ver. 10).
The governor wielded the power of the Roman kingdom; but who were they that secretly instigated him? The false religionists of their day — the priests, utterly blinded of the devil. Always without simplicity of heart, they assembled together with the elders and took counsel; and those who bribed a treacherous disciple with "thirty pieces of silver" to put Christ to death, gave "large money" now to deny the truth of His resurrection. Such is man, such is the world; and, solemn to say, such is its highest and proudest phase. Such it was then: is the moral complexion altered now? If we read the Bible aright, we shall find in it not only the record of the past, but the divine lesson-book of the present and the future. May we read it for our own souls! Certain it is that the Jews, and especially the religious chiefs, took the lead in evil and in opposition to God before Christ's death (Matt. 26-27), while He lay in the grave (Matt. 27:62-66), and after He rose again (Matt. 28:11-15). But unbelief is after all as weak against God as faith is mighty with and by Him. Their own guard became the clearest, most unwitting and least suspected witness of the resurrection. What a testimony was the alarm of the soldiers, added to the doubts of His own disciples! It became more than unbelief now; it was a deliberate, wilful lie; and there are the Jews "until this day." Their fears were, without their meaning it, a sure testimony to Jesus; but their enmity leads them on now to reject what they knew was the truth, even if they perished everlastingly.
"Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted" (vers. 16, 17). "Some doubted" — and these were disciples. How good is God! how above the thoughts of man! Man would have held back the fact. Why say that some of His disciples doubted? Would it not stumble others? but it is profitable to know the depth of our unbelieving hearts — to see that even in the presence of a risen Jesus "some doubted." No matter what His love to His children, God never hides their sins, nor makes light of them.
"And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. … And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." Now it appears to me that with such a word as this the ascension scene would be incongruous. He had said, "Lo, I am with you alway"; and there the curtain drops — the unbroken blessedness of this promise rings on the heart! Thus the keeping out of view His departure seems to me to crown the beauty of the parting promise, and of the whole Gospel.
And why not here "repentance and remission of sins"? why not "preach the gospel to every creature"? What is the peculiar fitness of this conclusion of Matthew? The Lord, rejected as the Jewish Messiah, opens out fresh dealings of God with men. Before, they were not to go even to Samaritans; but here an entirely new sphere is opened. It is no longer God having His peculiar dwelling-place in one nation; it is now this larger thought — "Go ye therefore, and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (ver. 19).* Baptism is here in contrast with circumcision, and the fuller revelation of the Godhead is contrasted with the name Jehovah by which God was known to Israel. "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." This falls in with the sermon on the mount, where the Lord says, in contrast with them of old time, "But I say unto you." He was the Prophet like unto Moses whom God had promised to raise up, and to whom they were bound to harken. What special guidance was this for Jewish disciples! They were to teach all things that Jesus had commanded. He was the beloved Son of God who now was to be heard pre-eminently. It was not a question of putting the Gentiles under the law — which has been the ruin of Christendom, the denial of Christianity, and the deep dishonour of Christ Himself.
* It is still "the kingdom," but no longer confined to Israel. — [Ed.
And here all closes. The disciples were about to enter on a troubled scene; but, "Lo, I [Jesus] am with you all the days, unto the consummation of the age." And this was and is enough for faith. The Lord grant that we may confide our souls, both for this age and forever, to that Word which shall stand when heaven and earth pass away!